“To see and to be seen. That is the truest nature of love.”
content warning: mentions of rape and sexual trauma
My very beloved gynecologist of ten years retired suddenly and I was thrust into the search to find a new one. Pap smears are, at best, invasive and tender procedures for those of us who need them; finding a new gynecologist can be a daunting process. I met (fully clothed in their office) with a few who came recommended—but when I began sobbing at the thought of an exam with them, I knew they were not the right doctors. I finally gave up and made a pap smear appointment with my Primary Care Physician.
So there I sat, in the liminal space of the exam room with nervous anticipation of this procedure, a scratchy blue gown and socks my only armor. When my doctor finally appears she begins chatting with me like normal. While we're chatting, I start to cry—though I was trying to hide it. Having a pap smear is already a private and invasive procedure. When you add a history of rape to the mix it becomes traumatic no matter how much you trust the doctor.
My doctor asked, in the most gentle way, why I was crying. I shared that I’m a sexual assault survivor, and the most profound thing happened: she silently moved next to me and put her hand on my shoulder. In that moment she simply existed with me. She did not try to fix it; she did not continue asking questions. She was present with me in the most tender and powerful way. She helped absorb the fear, pain, and trauma that arose for me in that liminal space. And eventually we were able to complete the exam.
As humans, it hurts to see others in pain, and so we often move in the direction of trying to fix the pain. But the power of relationship is when we can regard one another as whole beings, to love and be loved without words. Sometimes we need someone to witness the pain in holy stillness, to know why my heart is crying without trying to fix or soothe. One of the greatest gifts we can give to one another, when the need presents itself, is to be quiet companions through the journey of pain.
Spirit of Life and Love, help me to simply exist in those liminal spaces where pain is present, and remember that quiet companionship can be a profound gift of love.
Editor's note: This reflection is the fourth in a five-part series called "Embodying Self," reflecting perspectives on the awe, the pain, and the power of living at home in our bodies, and of accessing our bodies' wisdom.