I often wish I knew what to say when someone is suffering. No matter what words I choose, there is the feeling that they are inadequate–which, of course, they are. Sometimes the best I can hope for is to lend a feeling of support without saying anything to make the person feel worse. I try not to say “I know how you feel,” because that can be untrue or even feel patronizing. “It gets better” is pretty innocuous, but unlikely to be believed at certain times.
“Persevere” is one of my favorite words, although I don’t use it to others often for fear of sounding too intellectual. Merriam-Webster Online defines this word as “To persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition or discouragement.” Basically, keep going. I’ve developed an attachment to this word, and not just because it represents a quality I need.
Like many of my inspiring mindworms, my association with this word comes from a book. The author Julian May, whose wonderful works are a blend of fantasy, science fiction and philosophy, used this word several times at important plot points. I’ll tell you about the one that’s not really a spoiler (but if you want to take no chances, skip.)
It takes place in the book Intervention. The plot revolves around the fact that humans are beginning to develop mental abilities such as telepathy, psychokinesis and other talents previously thought impossible. Unknown to the humans, there is a coalition of alien races observing this process and waiting for the human species to reach a certain level of this greater psychic development, at which point they will be welcomed into the galactic society. For reasons it would take too long to explain, it would be dangerous to help the humans along or reveal themselves early–the humans must do it themselves, like a chick hatching. The observers must only observe.
So there’s a certain ship in orbit, and one of the aliens becomes aware of a telepathic signal from below. He realizes that a group of humans, focusing together and reaching for contact with something greater, are closer to a real broadcast than they have ever been. Excited, he tells his companions. He feels the desperation in the call, the longing, and he wants so badly to answer it and give them hope. His companions caution him sternly, and prepare to withdraw the ship from the signal’s range. But at the very last second, he lets one tiny thought slip, and the most powerful mind in the group below gets an impression at the edge of her consciousness. It says: “Persevere.”
The impression stays with her, and encourages her. It encourages me, too; the idea of this message with no explanation. It comes to mind when I ask myself what to say to anyone who is in a dark place. What do I say to you when you’re in a deep depression or suffering in detox or ready to act out because it all just sucks too much? What can I say that you haven’t heard before; that doesn’t sound ridiculously irrelevant in the context of your current pain? I want to say what I imagine something saying to me when I need it:
“Persevere. I can’t tell you why. I can’t explain what’s waiting, but there’s something ahead. Even if I knew exactly what it was going to look like for you, I couldn’t find the words to explain it to you now. And even if I could find the right words, you wouldn’t be able to hear them. And even if you could hear them, you wouldn’t believe them. Because the ears and the mind and the consciousness you have now are going to change, if you persevere. I know that what I’m asking you to do doesn’t make much sense, but persevere.”
Just like the compassionate alien in the ship, I have the desire to send a message that goes deeper into the consciousness than words can. Unfortunately, I’m not a telepath. But I believe we humans are sometimes capable of deeper communication than we know. Perhaps, if I keep trying, and if I pour my conviction and longing into the thought hard enough, I can give someone an emotional impression of hope and faith. An elusive but persistent drive that clings to the edge of the conscious mind, in defiance of logic, until a change comes.