Last Wednesday morning, I had an email in my inbox that was exactly what I needed. Tuesday, I had woken the reports of the leaked SCOTUS document about overturning Roe v. Wade. While it wasn’t exactly a surprise, it was still shocking and disheartening and deeply upsetting to me.
Wednesday morning, in comes one of Bill Penzey’s frequent emails.
If you’re not familiar, Penzey’s is a chain of spice stores. Bill, the founder, is… well, outspoken feels like an understated for his no-holds-barred messages in support of social justice, vaccination, immigrants’ rights, and, apropos Wednesday’s email, reproductive healthcare access.
The subject line was, “It’s Okay to be Heartbroken – Must See Photos!”
In addition to a promotion featuring the chain’s signature heart-emblazoned “Love” swag was his now-usual direct and thoughtful approach to responding to the moment at hand. I don’t always agree with him entirely but I do always appreciate his willingness to use his platform to take ethical stands.
I felt seen when I read the first half of that subject line.
I felt heartened when I read his impassioned words.
And then I felt the smile turn up the corners of my mouth when I got to the “Must See Photos!” It was a series of dogs and cats wearing the aforementioned heart-emblazoned “Love” swag – in addition to pins and towels and gift cards, they also have bandanas for the furry family members.
It can be so hard to know what to say in the midst of challenging times. Whether the challenges are deaths, diagnoses, or the sense that the world is falling apart around us, some blend of our own discomfort and our wish to ease the way for the people we love can lead us to blow past the opportunity for presence and move right into consolation.
At times like these, consolation can feel like invalidation to the person who is hurting.
“It’s okay,” can feel invalidating when it feels anything but okay.
“At least…” can feel invalidating by suggesting that it’s only valid to focus on what’s going well instead of acknowledging what is challenging.
Trying to add levity right away can feel invalidating when there are real and legitimate feelings of discomfort present…
…and yet levity isn’t left off the guest list. That’s part of what made Bill’s email so brilliant, and so comforting, to me. First he validated: “Yes, this is bad. Yes, it’s okay to feel bad.” And then he said, “And there’s still good in the world, there are still reasons to smile… like adorable pets wearing affirming bandanas!”
Which also acted as a reminder that we are not alone. Bill didn’t put the bandanas on those pups and cats. Their people did.
People like me.
People like us.