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I recently had a very disturbing Facebook conversation with an old friend. It felt to me that she was sick and tired of hearing me lament the difficulties of my life. She commanded I follow her directions, which she seemed to think would end my problems.

None of her “solutions” were viable.  Some already having been tried, some would only bring about more problems–something she obviously had not considered.

I know that my hardships are numerous and have gone on far too long. Believe me, no one can be more sick and tired of them than I!

Another old friend also recently shared something with me on Facebook.  She has had her own years of darkness and pain and is seeking her own kind of new, free life.  She shared that she had written on her mirror the words “Suck It Up, Buttercup!”  Not only did I laugh, I downloaded an image of a buttercup and typed up my own Suck It Up, Buttercup mini poster to hang on my wall.

I realize at some point I do need to just suck it up and get on with life, no matter how crappy things continue to be.  However, I think our American value system of rugged independence and our ability to “suck it up” has deeply wounded us as a society.

My kids chuckled when I told them that in other countries, especially at other times, there were professional mourners who would wail, bemoan, cry, bang their heads, and even pull their own hair out.  Much like how I used to chuckle at the idea of sitting in sackcloth in an ash heap.

But, it served a purpose.  Maybe we should bring back some of those silly, archaic practices.

My husband abandoned me after beating me so severely for years that I now have neurological damage.  Shortly after he left, both of my parents died.  My brother then turned on me.  Several other family members died.  Most recently my dog was hit and killed.  I feel sad.  I am grieving.  I feel a terrible sense of loss.  And, occasionally, in that loss and sadness, I feel lonely and neglected.

Some apparently see it as one long pity party and seem to think that this buttercup needs to learn to suck it up.

Imagine with me though………….if here and now in the good ole US of A, we had professional mourners who would cry on my behalf when I’m too shell shocked to mourn appropriately.  If we accepted and understood the importance of the ash heap.  If I could adorn myself in itchy, ugly clothing and sit, throwing dirt on my head, letting everyone who passed by know that I am depressed.  I am mourning. I am sad.  And, imagine if they felt compassion and sympathy and jumped in to tend my children and animals, allowing me time to sit there in those ashes unbothered by normal, daily responsibilities.

Would that time in the ash heap shorten my dark season?  Would the ability to set aside the mundane issues of daily living and just focus on my sadness actually bring me to a point of wholeness and healing sooner?

Instead, within a week of my husband leaving my church offered suggestions for full-time work for me.  I was working the day my mother died.  I took two days off work when my father died, and I cooked dinner the night he died.  I was sucking it up.

I remember when I was a kid and our town was smaller, and I had extended family living still.  This sounds strange, but it was actually almost pleasant when we suffered a loss, the death of a beloved family member.  All of the neighbors camped out in Grandma and Grandpa’s kitchen.  Friends and family stayed late at night and returned early in the morning.  We looked at pictures and retold stories.  Even people we hadn’t seen in years showed up with a meal and their condolences.  None of us cooked for weeks.  No one went to work.  We mourned.  Publicly.  Thoroughly.  Without distraction.  And, others sat and mourned with us.   They cooked for us, played games with the confused children, and listened with a sympathetic ear while we sat in a proverbial ash heap.  And, they acted as our professional mourners.  

We then returned the favor at some point.  As a small child I learned to sit silently for hours on end and listen and watch as someone cried and talked.  Those were profound moments.  They knit us together.

Today, I don’t see that kind of community.  I don’t see that kind of time allowance.  Time is money.  Suck it up, Buttercup.  Get back to work.  Take care of your own responsibilities.  No one wants to enable a cry baby.  Life is tough.  We all have our own problems.

So, we do our best to suck it up and then we just end up in therapy later and suffer from degenerative illnesses and chronic pain.

Not that there aren’t issues with the ash heap.  Job’s friends are perfect examples of those who heap further persecution on us in our weakest moments.  They are perfect examples of those who blame the victim and compound the misery.  There will always be those people in our lives who think they have the answers, or that they must always have an answer.   Job’s friends did well when they sat in silence beside him.  They should have just kept their mouths shut.

Years and years ago I found an old, tattered book at a yard sale.  The title was something like What to Say When You Don’t Know What To Say.  The thesis of the book was you don’t always need to say something.  A hug, a tear, your presence is often ALL that is needed.  Because sometimes, even with the best of intentions, our words compound the pain and suffering of others.

Ash heaps are beneficial when spread on acidic soil.  They balance the pH.  Wood ash contains most of the thirteen essential nutrients plants need.  I think they probably bring balance to a bitter spirit.  Maybe they contain the essential components to restoration and healing following our most difficult periods in life.  Perhaps they contain just what we need.

And, then, eventually, in time, the buttercups spring forth, suck up those minerals, and blossom……….out of the ashes.

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