Something she often used to say to me, when I arrived at her apartment and she brewed up a big dark brown pot of Lapsang Souchong tea, was how many shocks she'd had that week. She was always very precise about this, identifying and enumerating the shocks.
At the time, when she was in her 70s and I in my late 30s, I privately found these observations somewhat amusing. Margery and her shocks. They could be quite small things — some bad news about a relative, an unwelcome change at church, a financial setback — but they affected her adversely and she used to make them a focus for healing prayer.
Now, in my 60s, I understand better the significance of shocks; even small ones — the hurtful email, the colleague who lets you down, the loss of something familiar.
I have become aware that these shocks accrue into an aggregate of grief — a sort of ganglion of effects — that take up residence in my spirit. They develop into a cumulative grief that can be debilitating over time. They don't dissipate; they accumulate. And as Toinette Lippe pointed out in her wonderful book Nothing Left Over, "problems arise where things accumulate". Shocks leave a residue of lumpy scar tissue occluding the flow of peace.
Here's an example. Over time (not all at once) I've experienced in my life some deep hurts, disappointments, humiliations and discouragements. I can't go into specifics because they arise from the interface between my life and other people's, so telling my story involves betraying theirs. But in my church we have some souls of beautiful encouragement — people of real deep-rooted kindness and understanding. There's one couple who consistently (more than they are aware, I think) encourage me; and in so doing they are gradually salving and healing some of the hurts of the past. They say to me some of the kind and affirming things I longed for others to say, who never did. Then recently, the wife of that couple had an accident — just something at home, not huge or life-threatening, but bad enough to need an ambulance. And when I heard what had happened, it gave me such a shock. It reminded me forcibly that all of us are vulnerable, that something can happen to anyone at any time — and suddenly they are gone or impaired, lost to you. If my first thought was concern for her well-being, my close second thought was for my own, I confess. The thought of managing without this friend (even though she wasn't dreadfully ill or anything) made such an impact on me, and shot me into a state of grief that actually belonged to previous hurts that she was gently healing. That's the kind of thing I mean; where a little incident evidently is all tangled up with an accumulation of previous experience. Like the person who stoically soldiers on through the death of a child, a parent, a husband, a friend — then is completely undone by the death of a TV personality or of a bird who flew into a closed window.
I've found a few ways of addressing this matter of shocks; and you may know of more.
- Brought up to make light of adversity, my instinct is to ignore and dismiss the impact of shocks, but I've found this is unwise. Even though my shocks may be small fry compared with those experienced by people forced to live in refugee camps or theatres of war, I am learning to bring each one to God and ask his help with them. He is generous with his help, but waits to be asked. Jesus used to say to people in need of healing, "What would you like me to do for you?" So I say to him now, "I feel so shocked by this [minor event]. Please will you help me with it?"
- Living simply is very helpful. A minimalist life, by virtue of not having much in it (things, relationships, commitments, events) allow one to perceive and identify shocks as they happen. In a cluttered life one can be quite broadsided and fail to notice, because there's so much going on — like those bruises sustained in the hectic business of moving furniture, that you don't even notice until you get in the bath the next day. If you live simply, you can attend to the shocks when they are small, before they get the chance to clump. Once they accumulate, they can form a quite potent nexus of pain, which adversely affects future interactions in all one's relationships. One becomes touchy.
- Rest after a shock is helpful. A warm drink, a comforting place to sit, a cheerful book or television programme — I mean like a cookery show or something, not a nail-biting violent thriller.
Dear Margery. She knew what she was talking about; more than I understood at the time. I guess these things loom larger as one gets older.