I tell my clients this story, courtesy of Aaron Sorkin’s Leo McGarry on The West Wing:
“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.
“A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’ The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’ The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on.
“Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out? ‘And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”
That’s the thing about being in a hole. There’s no one quite like someone who’s been down in that exact same hole to help you. I mean, sure, someone who’s been down some hole, somewhere, sometime, might have something useful to share. Then again, they might not.
I imagine that this is one of the purposes of hardship – or at least one of the better things to come from it. That we can call upon what we went through to help someone else going through the same. It doesn’t make it all worth it, exactly, but it helps lighten the burden, even give it meaning, to be able to use one’s own pain to lesson that of another.
My first book came from what was once a painful place. So do the books of many others. And when I’m in big trouble now? One of the first things I do, after I talk to trusted dear ones, is start reading. Indiscriminately, at first, but then with focused intent. I’m looking for someone who’s been down that particular hole. In reading about their journey, I know I can help get myself out.
There are a lot of good people in some deep and scary holes right now. They can use your love, your prayers, your famous chili casserole, and whatever you can spare for their Gofundme campaigns. And they long to hear the voices of those who’ve been down the hole before them. They yearn to read stories of shared struggle, of redemption, of everything some way, somehow, being okay.
If there’s a hole you’ve been down and you got yourself out, I hope you start telling everyone about it. I hope you sing out, loud and strong. Our stories illuminate us, and they light the way for others to follow. I hope you write yours and share it with the world.