Beliefs Opinion

COMMENTARY: Getting through the getting-through times

c. 1997 Religion News Service

(Dale Hanson Bourke is the author of”Turn Toward the Wind”and publisher of RNS.)

UNDATED _ Life can be good. Life can be bad. But mostly, life is somewhere in between.

It’s in that mid-range of life that most of us struggle to survive. Too often, we find ourselves alone when dealing with the nagging pain of physical trauma or emotional loss, unfulfilled expectations and dashed dreams.

Friends and family may surround us during the big moments to acknowledge our triumphs and tragedies, but in the backwaters of life we often stagnate and lose sight of the way out.

These are the vulnerable times, prompting what might be called”little suicides.”Each of us has them along the way.”I give up,”we say with a shrug, and in doing so embrace life a little less fully.

Some of us turn to God in those moments. We cry out,”Be merciful to me, Lord, for I am faint,”just as David did in the Psalms. Some look elsewhere for comfort or escape.

Now and then, a sensitive friend notices the signs of trouble. A word, a touch, a phone call mean a lot in those moments.

But everyone seems too busy these days. The din of constant activity allows us to keep someone’s name on the”to do”list without ever actually doing anything _ never getting around to making the call, never reaching out.

So it’s no surprise that the people who make their livelihood from the big occasions have now recognized the need to acknowledge the in-between moments. Hallmark Cards has stepped in to fill the void left by fragmented families, busy friends and out-of-touch religious congregations with its new series of”Thinking of You”cards.

A new line of greeting cards is not news, of course, but the sentiments expressed in these cards are. Without being overtly religious, many of the cards acknowledge God, as well as an understanding of the special circumstances that touch our lives.

These circumstances are a snapshot of the struggles of modern life: Chronic illness, troubled teens, blended families, exhausted caregivers, ongoing recovery, unstable jobs and terminal illness _ and Hallmark has a card for each of them.”It’s not news that people who are sick, challenged or troubled benefit from human contact, thoughtful gestures and encouraging words,”says Steve Bellis of Hallmark.”We humans need expressions of empathy and sympathy, affirmation and concern in order to be healthy _ especially in times of adversity.” Bellis points out that we often acknowledge the major events in one another’s lives, but not the processes. And it’s in those processes that we often get mired.

One of Hallmark’s new cards features a stylized angel holding a heart with the message:”Please don’t forget _ while you’re taking care of everyone else, take care of yourself, too.”Another refers to problems with a child and says”… more prayers are with you than you could ever know.”Still another says,”God won’t let you go through this by yourself.” Hallmark is not an altruistic mission; it’s a business. But as a business with a keen sense of its customers’ needs, Hallmark has surfaced issues we all need to recognize in ourselves and in one another.

Modern life still has its highs and lows, but more often it’s comprised of the middle ground. Friends struggle to put one foot in front of the other and occasionally need a gentle touch, a word of encouragement, an acknowledgment that going on is worth it.

A card, a phone call, or an embrace can become a lifeline to a friend who is just getting through. We all know that, but too often we don’t take the time, as the telephone company reminds us, to”reach out and touch someone.” But to show we care, it first takes a softened heart and a sensitive ear to notice the pain around us. As far as I know, only God has a corner on that market.