There have been some events of late which crystallized for me the reality of stark, extreme, excruciating injustice run rampant in our world. I am not trying to be cryptic in not elaborating upon what those events were. These weren’t all large things but somehow several things working together painted a clear picture in my mind of the scope and minute detail of the injustice enmeshed in our world. It wouldn’t make sense to anyone else. It barely makes sense to me.
But as I ponder heartbreaks and tragedies and near misses and such another thing came clear to me: there are three little words which I would like to remove from our vocabulary when we are speaking to someone facing difficulties or grief. These three little words are “well, at least.” We think we say “well, at least” to cheer people up, to help them look on the bright side. “Well, at least you’re young.” “ Well at least you had many years together.” “Well, at least you know the truth now.” “Well, at least you didn’t lose everything.” Two of my favorites, said to someone who has lost a spouse: “Well, at least you have your children.” And “Well, at least you didn’t have any children.” Laying them out side by side kind of shows the ridiculous nature of these well meaning comments. How can two opposite statements both be bright sides? When we say, “well, at least” we may think we are comforting someone else but in reality we are comforting ourselves. We are uncomfortable with someone else’s pain and are trying to make it seem smaller. Sometimes there is a bright side but if there is, the person in pain will likely need to find it and has a right to claim it him/herself. It is one thing for the crucified to break into the song “Always look on the Bright Side of Life.” (From Monty Python’s the “Life of Brian”) It is quite something else for the onlookers to ask such a thing of those suffering. The former is amusing dark humor. The latter is rank insensitivity and selfishness.
I recently almost said, “Well, at least…” to a friend. I understand the temptation. But, I am so glad I stopped myself and listened instead.