If You Hurt, I Hurt Too


I never want to politicize, moralize, or spiritualize someone’s pain.

I am always on the side of the wounded. Where there is loss, I am for the bereaved. Where you are hurting, I want to bring healing. Anything less is making us less human and not more.

It would take only a few seconds to consider the other person’s pain and perspective and point of view. That has the power to heal. The only cost to empathy is losing bigotry, self-righteousness, and pride. Empathy is that good.

It should never be on the wounded to explain their pain, defend their injury, or to forgive over and over the injustices that never should’ve happened but keep happening. Even if your hurt is not my hurt: because you’re hurting, I hurt too.

I want to empathize first, to listen first, to grieve first, and to be angry and to weep alongside. Not lecture, lessonize, or minimize. I don’t want to add burdens, nor demand explanations, nor kick you while you’re down. I want to crawl down there with you.

I cannot understand the hasty, vicious speed by which real hurting people are turned into talking points. I don’t mean the platforms for justice. I mean the ones that degrade and deny. I cannot understand the evil scorn and jeering and mockery: there is no honor in desecration, but only violence to the soul. And while I do not believe we must be forced to give our opinion all the time—so often the silence is chilling, and apathy can be the most destructive force of all.

May I never lose sight of the wound and the wounded. May God forgive me for when I wasn’t listening, for not getting it right. Above all, I must grieve. Through tears, prayer, and action, I grieve with you.
— J.S.

#AhmaudArbery

Even If I Don’t Get It


Once I had this friend who was embarrassed by my laughter. At the movies, he would literally shove my shoulder to tell me to quiet down. At first I just stopped laughing around him. But eventually I stifled my laughter around everybody.

That same friend couldn’t believe it when I was sad about something, or hurt, or not enjoying myself. I was being a downer, I guess. I was interrupting his life.

We went hiking once and he kept telling me to smile. “Why don’t you laugh?” he said. He knew I had lung issues and breathing problems. But he wouldn’t slow down for me, not for a second.

We’re not friends anymore, but here’s the thing: I don’t think we were ever friends. He wanted a customizable, checklisted, wishlisted type of robot that met his every whim. That was all. He couldn’t imagine another person with needs beyond his own. And I was happy to cater to him. There was something about his bully-like authority that I was attracted to, as if I got strength from his domineering. But no, we were never friends. I was his rug, his lapdog.

I could be mad at him, but I’m guilty of the same thing. Sometimes I don’t understand a person’s fears, dreams, and goals, and I judge them for it. I don’t get their hobbies or the movies or music they like or the fact they love quinoa and kale. Mentally I belittle them for being them.

We do this with mental health, gender, race, culture, their stories: it’s as if we withhold permission for people to feel hurt about the things that don’t hurt us. “It’s never happened to me, therefore it never happens” is the most destructive lie that destroys connection.

But I want to get it. I want to get your fear, anxiety, pain, your worries and heartaches and shame. Your whole story. To really listen means that another person’s story is more important than my own right then. But that’s how we grow. That’s how we heal. That’s how we find laughter, loud and free.

I’m sorry I didn’t listen earlier. I’m sorry I didn’t hear you. I want to. I want to hear you, and by hearing, fully see.

— J.S.

Tell Your Story Even (and Especially) If No One Listens


I was telling my story to somebody the other day and I got to the various injustices of racism I’ve endured, and he told me, “That doesn’t happen. Not anymore.” I insisted it did, and he counter-insisted, “That’s just something everybody goes through, you’re just injecting race into it.” I tried to tell him about the times someone had physically assaulted me while yelling “ch_nk” or “go_k” or “yellow kid” or “your dad killed my dad in the war,” but he kept telling me, “That’s not that bad.”

So I excused myself from the conversation. I felt a bit humiliated, honestly. This was a guy I really trusted, who I was sure would understand. He was absolutely adamant he was right.

I’ve seen this sort of thing with mental health, sexual abuse, family upbringing, classism, gender, religion—you try to tell your story, and a wall comes up. You get the reply, “It’s never happened to me, therefore it never happens.” And you start to wonder: Am I the crazy one? Is it just in my head? Am I overreacting and too sensitive, like they’re saying?

But then I’ve found those who heard me. Who listened. Who weren’t just treating me like a sad pity project or asking out of voyeuristic curiosity. I’ve found safe people who may not have gone through the same thing, but they can literally become the other. They pause to believe.

I’ve also found those who have walked in the same shoes and skin. Sometimes they thought they were walking alone, against insurmountable forces with no community and zero support—until they heard someone say a similar story and they knew they weren’t crazy. That gives me enough courage to keep speaking, to keep sharing. It’s in the telling of our stories we find healing, and each other. You may be lonely for a while, but you are not alone.
— J.S.

Stand Against, and Stand For


In sixth grade, I had this friend who was six foot two. He was twelve years old, with wrists the size of my torso. Imagine that: my own personal giant.

He became my voice.

His name was Tripp. I was bullied a lot in sixth grade, but when Tripp was around, nobody tried to clown me. One time, Tripp wrapped his hand around a kid’s head like it was an apple, and no kidding, just like a crane out of heaven, he gently placed the kid on the other side of the hall from me. For weeks, that apple-headed kid had been telling me to go back to China. After the crane incident, Apple-Head never bothered me again.

The thing is, nobody should need a guy like Tripp. We should all get an equal distribution of voice. But that isn’t how it is right now. People get squashed. Silenced. Stuffed in a locker. Told to get on a boat.

Really, I wish everybody had a guy like Tripp who spoke up for them. I wish that nobody needed a guy like Tripp, either. Until then, I’m grateful for the people in the hallway who speak up. Not just online, but in dorms and cafes and churches and check-out lines, when it’s not easy or popular, when it costs something, when no one is looking and when everyone is. I hope to be that guy, too. A crane out of heaven.

— J.S.

Don’t Get Cynical; Keep Hope


One look at the news and it’s easy to get cynical. It’s easy to give in to pessimism. It’s understandable, given our daily trauma, the terrible headlines, and our disappointing leaders. It’s tiring. But often the world is the way it is because too many of us have accepted the way it is. Pessimism has always been a sport for sidelines. I’m afraid that the detachment of pessimism, as fun as it is, is often just laziness.

No, simply “thinking positive” doesn’t make things better. And it takes momentous effort, decades of sweat and tears and rallies and voices, to move the needle towards real change. That has to start with you. With me. With believing that change is possible. With our little corners and small platforms and unseen podiums. With believing that even ancient institutions like politics and the church and social attitudes can be completely transformed.

Optimism doesn’t only see how we are, but who we could be. I want eyes that see that far. The way ahead was lit by others who dared to hope. Change happened by those who first believed it was possible. So we must carry the light for those coming next. We are the next. We can’t go down without a fight.
— J.S.

“God Is in Control,” but What This Really Means


When somebody tells me, “Don’t worry, God is in control,” too often that’s used as an excuse to be passive. When I hear “God will provide,” that usually means, “I don’t want to help.” When I hear, “That’s God’s Will,” that seems to mean, “Better that guy than me.” These are no better than empty “thoughts and prayers.” At best they’re a cowardly cop-out, and at worst they’re abuse powered by false theology.

If God is really in control, that means I have to answer to Him. That raises my responsibility to the highest level. And if He’s in control, He has given us real resources to help. That should be motivation to do more, not less. If I am not in control, then I can’t do it in my strength, but His. That’s good news.
— J.S.