If you want to witness something shake-your-head-foolish, get within earshot of a group of women sharing labour and delivery stories. It doesn’t take long for it to escalate into a tug-of-war of hour-counts, staff abandonments, epidural horror stories and most dramatic water-breakings. I myself have been known to bust out my early-morning petrified cab driver bit when I feel the attention waning in my corner.
Years ago I shared the story of my mother’s illness and death with another woman and she responded with “So?…” It was devastating enough that the story she proceeded to tell is little more than a Charlie Brown teacher schpiel, but I can still envision the scene when she spoke that hurtful and invalidating word to me in full detail.
Not only do we compete for (or lament the loss of) the titles of Most Capable, Most Beautiful, Most Fabulous at Anything and Everything, Most Postable Life – sometimes we compete for the Most Miserable too, we must admit. (Just listen to people in Toronto this month talking about the effects of the PanAm Games traffic control measures on their daily commutes.) The more pathetic we look sometimes, the better. A sort of cheap imitation of martyrdom.
I can play the victim, but I have dished it out too, though. I am not proud of it. For the exact reason that I was proud of it in the second I spat out my two cents.
I am listening more now than I used to, holding back a response and simply receiving testimony, and only creating a dialogue when it can offer the mutual comfort of common ground. It gets easier, resisting the temptation to one-up in favour of empathizing, the more I come to know that I am who God says I am. Not more this or less that than anyone else. Just enough.