I had a friend lose a child recently to the criminal justice system, and I was able to stop by the courthouse and stand with my friend as the sentence was handed down. And I thought that day about the power of presence in the midst of a person's suffering.
See, I didn't really know if I'd be welcome. I didn't know if it would be embarrassing to my friend to have me there while things were not looking pretty and the horrible realities of life were exposed. I didn't know if my friend would appreciate the vulnerability that my presence would bring. We'd never shared an experience like that, never talked deeply about our emotional scars, never really gone to that level.
But still I went, and I stood there, and I experienced those moments with my friend. And though I couldn't solve any problems or make anything better, I could just be. I could just be there. And that means now that my friend will never have to explain to me what happened that day.
Words will always be inadequate to express what those moments of suffering are like. If I had not been there, I would never know what happened--not really. But because I was there and shared that experience no words are necessary. As my friend deals with what happened that day, I'll never need an explanation for why it is hard or what feelings might be involved. I won't need the story because I saw the story unfold. I will know because I was there.
Presence in the midst of suffering is a gift. And the gift is not in the ability to problem solve, to make the situation better, or to even ease the pain. But presence is a gift because it means that I don't have to explain to you why my life is hard or why my day was hard or why I am not ok. You already know because you were there. And that means that I am not alone.