Monday, May 20, 2013

"Sister" Discussion

It's fine to talk about what you think of the piece, but we'd like to focus on what the piece makes you think about. Some questions to start:  
Have you ever been afraid to try to help someone? Why? Have you ever been upset by someone who wanted to help you? Why?

The poem begins with a sorrow that slices when swallowed. What's the distinction between healthy sorrows and destructive ones?

The poem ends with the speaker trying to "shift the burden sideways." What might that mean? How do you help someone dealing with a trial you can't take away or a problem you can't solve?


  1. Because it's titled "Sister," reading this brought to mind a time I was nervous to help my older sister. She wasn't really experiencing slicing sorrow, and looking from the outside seems like a simple thing, but it wasn't.

    My older sister works hard and is kind-hearted and good. I love her a lot. She was a student most of her adult life until she recently entered her career in social work. She has raised her children well and is someone I really admire. Understandably, her house wasn't very clean.

    She's aware of it and sometimes embarrassed and sometimes just wished people wouldn't care. She told me that once the YW offered to wash windows or clean and that she felt mortified. Sometimes offering service is completely offensive. I completely understand that.

    It just happened that she had to have their house appraised on her birthday which was also a day she was at work. It also happened at a time when our bishopric had challenged us to give service daily and keep track of it. So I went over and cleaned her house, not sure whether I was helping or embarrassing her and hurting our relationship. I just prayed the whole time that she would know I was trying to love her and that I don't really care how she keeps her house.

    It was gratefully received, and the memory of that still evokes strong emotion for me. I don't always feel like I have a lot to give, but that day I felt like I might have been the only one who could do that particular service for her and have her feel okay about it. She needed me. It's nice to be needed, and it's nice to have someone there when we need them.

  2. I always mean to comment on these and rarely get the chance to, but this one really struck me. I think many of us, while definitely striving to be charitable, find it easier to jump straight to comforting those who stand in need of comfort, wanting to skip the awkward step of mourning with those who mourn. It is uncomfortable to know what exactly someone needs, especially for a trial that might not be as visible or tangible. We are really good at offering up baked goods (that's what the line "offer up my crumbs" made me think of) but sometimes feel helpless to know how to really, truly help someone in despair. I was thinking of this recently when my back went out. In Relief Society they passed around a list for people to sign up to help me with whatever I needed, days and times of days they were available, even at a moment's notice. The page was full of names and phone numbers of people more than willing to serve, happy for the opportunity to come lift my little kids when I couldn't, entertain them, some did a little light house cleaning and even brought meals. I was overwhelmed with gratitude. But I wondered about the woman sitting in that same Relief Society room who might have also been struggling, but in less obvious ways. Maybe she is so depressed she can't get out of bed in the morning to vacuum or do the laundry or cooking. Or maybe her anxiety is so bad that she doesn't know how she's going to do the next ten minutes, let alone the next ten years until her kids are raised. Those (hypothetical) women need just as much help as I did, but what kind of sign-up sheet do you pass around Relief Society for that? How do you know where to start? How do you know just what they need when sometimes they don't even know what they need? So sometimes you want so badly to help, and all you can really offer is the crumbs, the plate of cookies, knowing there is so much more hurt there and wishing you could do more than just feel for someone. I think it would be healthier all around if we let down some (really just some) of the social barriers on pain so that we could truly mourn with each other.

  3. Pride. It gets you coming and going.

  4. Marianne Hales HardingMay 20, 2013 at 11:57 PM

    I *love* the concept of shifting the burden sideways. We all want to go in and fix things, to make it all better, to take away pain, and the reality is that sometimes people are wounded animals and some pain (ok, most pain) is not easily fixed. But we can sit with each other and share the burden. I love that. I love the way that is phrased.

  5. this is a great poem by a great poet. I know just how it feels to try to comfort someone who is a little (a lot) like a cactus. Sometimes I've tried to say or do something to help, but then wish I hadn't because of the angry reception I got. I don't want thanks, but I also don't want anger. I guess sometimes it is hard to know what to do.



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