I’ve been on a very strict diet (no grains, refined sugar, beans, legumes, or most dairy) for my health conditions over the past year. Apparently though, it hasn’t been enough. The next step is to go on an even stricter diet, additionally eliminating the remaining dairy, nuts and seeds, alcohol, eggs, and many other foods. Up until a few days ago, I hadn’t tried this stricter diet even though I knew it might have had a chance at helping me. When I read that sentence it sounds absurd. Why wouldn’t I do something that might help me?
Because of the missing leg.
No, I don’t mean literally.
Perhaps because we grew up on stories of the “American Dream” we have a tendency to assume that if a person has an option for self-betterment than they absolutely have the ability to choose that option. Homeless people are a great example. We say things like well, why don’t they just go down to the shelter? Or why don’t they just apply at McDonalds? Or, the one I hear most frequently, maybe if they stopped doing drugs they wouldn’t be homeless. But nobody says these kinds of things when the homeless person is also missing a leg. We understand that missing a leg changes things. Theoretically, the crippled homeless man could crawl to the nearest building and seek help but we understand if he doesn’t. We understand if he waits for somebody to give him a wheelchair or carry him.
But here’s the thing. They all have missing legs.
Homeless people. Broke people. Sick people. Lonely people. Prisoners. Addicts. They all have missing legs.
The missing leg might be a mental disorder. Or it might be a handful of needy children at home. It might be a difficult family member. It might be an invisible chronic pain. It might be a childhood trauma.
Everybody in a bad place, physically, emotionally, spiritually, or socially, has something crippling them from moving on to the next step in healing. And these things are just as real as the literal missing leg.
The reason I hadn’t done the stricter diet is because when I’m sickest and need it the most standing to cook creates a lot of pain and the diet requires an absurd amount of cooking. Moreover, I have a toddler running around. And finally, when I feel terrible, the few foods I can eat make me feel better. Do I just suck it up? Maybe. But at what point would the stress of sucking it up make everything else much worse? At what point do I say I can’t do this alone?
I am not denying our human ability to get through our troubles and thrive. There are few things I believe in more assuredly than the power of human perseverance and hope (in fact, it is one of the main reasons I started this blog.) I’m not saying we shouldn’t challenge people to take personal responsibility, heal themselves, and amend their lives. The ability to do so is very real and understanding it is essential to our happiness. I’m also not making a political stance about welfare or Medicare or any of that. Im just saying we need to change the way we look at the suffering people. We need to change our language. When we see a man with a missing leg we don’t start asking him how it happened, trying to figure out if it was his fault or not, if he’s doing everything he possibly can about the situation, and therefore, whether or not he deserves our sympathy. We sympathize because, quite simply, he has a missing leg.
The truth is, suffering is complicated. Sometimes it is out of the blue, totally unrelated to our personal actions or habits. Sometimes it is directly related to personal fault. Most of the time it’s a little of both. But in the end, we all have suffering and we all have fault. And we are all responsible for dealing with that reality. I don’t know what I would do without the support I have received from family and friends throughout my sickness. But some people don’t have that support. Some people don’t get sympathy for the missing leg.
And I know this for a fact: No government programs, no charities, no businesses can truly thrive and work unless they first sympathize with peoples’ sufferings. All people. It doesn’t count to only sympathize with the people you relate to– the people who suffer the way you do. It doesn’t count to only sympathize with the people who you believe deserve it. Either we all deserve it or none of us do. Because none of us are perfect. I can’t imagine a world where we would only get sympathy and understanding if we were.
It turns out, I finally did start the stricter diet– but only because my husband offered to do it along with me. He has no personal reason to. But he saw my missing leg and he knew I needed to be carried.