i can’t imagine

February 13, 2013

I say that phrase. When something shitty or fucked up or tragic happens to someone, I say “I can’t imagine ¬†what it’s like to . . .” and then paraphrase the super shitty thing that’s happening or happened to them. Most times, when I say “I can’t imagine” I mean I haven’t experienced the super shitty thing myself, but I can guess what it feels like and it must be feel fucked up and they must be suffering, and I wish all of that wasn’t happening to them and I wish I knew some better thing to say to make it better for them. In short, most of the time I pretty much mean the opposite of “I can’t imagine” because I’m actually trying to imagine the fucked up experience but also I am afraid of failing in my imagination and in doing so, letting the other person down. I think this is true or I hope this is true for most of the people, most of the time, when they say that they “can’t imagine what it’s like to . . .” That they don’t mean it literally. ¬†Because that would be really lonely and sad. If by saying “I can’t imagine” people were saying “I’m not doing that right now. I’m not going to picture you and what that might mean to you to have this fucked up thing happening.” Because when super shitty stuff is happening and you’re suffering and scared, you really need other people to imagine the super shitty thing with you, so that you are not so alone.

All this to say, I’m trying to exorcise this phrase, “I can’t imagine,” from my vocabulary. I have friends who are having super shitty experiences, epically shitty experience, and who have reminded me how it feels to hear that phrase and how sometimes it feels like being abandoned, like “oh shit, things must be really bad if you can’t imagine it.” I felt that way myself after my dad died in a house fire and people said “I can’t imagine that.” I wanted to say to them, “could you just try, because it sucked and I’m angry and sad and I need to be less alone.” I know there’s got to be better way to say to someone who is suffering, that I am thinking of them and holding space for their experience. A better way like lets take a walk or here’s some food or let me get that cup of coffee or tell me about your dad or your daughter or your husband or simply I am thinking of you.

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