Simone Weil, the French Philosopher, encourages us to be attentive to the sufferer. She believes it is very difficult for us to be attentive. She mentions in Selected Writings that warmth of heart; spontaneity and pity are not enough. We have to be attentive to the full picture. She wants us literally to be in the skin of this hurting neighbor. In the legend of the Holy Grail, the sacred chalice that satisfies all hungers because of the consecrated host within goes like this. The first person to ask the keeper of the Holy Grail, who is paralyzed, “What are you going through?” gets to keep it.
Why this question? To love our neighbor’s means we see them, actually see them in their completeness before us. When we do, we are saying, “What are you going through? Let me share a recent example.
Philip, a close friend, telephoned to tell me he was dying of cancer and had a week to live. All I saw through the telephone was his smiling face and his distinct laughter from our past times together. It was not easy to see my friend with his pain.
But as he spoke I understood my friend was in trouble with suffering I didn’t have. He wanted me to know this. How do I do this? Yet, I had to let him know I heard him. So I “listened” to his words and “saw” him lying in his bed. I began to feel his expression-filled words of acceptance. I tried to be attentive to where my friend was and his struggle.
I wanted him to know even from this great distance that I was with him and loved him. Philip was on his last few miles of his journey, and was inviting me to travel with him. I gave him my full attention. Like the seeker of the Holy Grail, I wanted Philip to hear me say, “What are going through?” This was the only gift he needed.