I’m about 100 years behind on pop culture, but I finally watched Me Before You last night. Based on the book of the same name by Jojo Moyes, Me Before You is about a young man, Will, who ends up paralyzed after an accident, and his caretaker, Lou(isa). You know the drill: boy is standoffish at first, but girl manages to worm her way into his heart, they fall in love, yada, yada. Until she learns he’s planning to end his life, and concocts a plan to get him to change his mind. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t, everyone cries, the end.
The Big Theme of the movie, of course, is right-to-die. Will believes that dying is better than living with a disability, and aside from a few heartfelt pleas, no one in his immediate circle takes any meaningful action to convince him otherwise. How tragic. How deeply, horrifyingly tragic. Joni Eareckson Tada and Samuel James have more on that here and here.
As a person with a disability myself, I’ve been thinking lately about the people who love those of us with disabilities, and how disability affects relationships. So I was most intrigued Lou’s response to Will’s plans. And by intrigued, I mean disappointed. First, she didn’t hear it from his own mouth—she just happened to overhear a conversation between his parents. Rightly horrified, her next step is not to talk to Will, but to take matters into her own hands. She decides that if she plans a few fun trips and outings, surely that will restore Will’s zest for life, right? Right? Right?
The assumption she makes is the same mistake of many: she assesses the situation for herself and determines a solution, despite not living with a disability herself or asking Will his thoughts. She never asks him why he wants to end his life, pushes back against him to consider another way of viewing life with a disability, or enters into his pain. She does not hurt along with him. She might hurt for him, or for her own loss, but she is not in the thick of it, grieving his former life with him, sharing his tears or his heartache.
I don’t know what it’s like to live an active lifestyle and suddenly find myself unable to move from the chest down, as Will did, but I do know what it’s like to live in a world that I cannot maneuver as effortlessly as my hearing peers. I know what it feels like when people look at you funny, when you have to ask for help (again), when you just straight up have to miss something special because you couldn’t participate. Sometimes embarrassing and awkward, often frustrating and unjust. This is not the kind of heartache that can be resolved with a few vacations and a little flirting. This is not a minor annoyance that can be fixed, glossed over, or ignored. No, this is a pain that clobbers you, demanding to be felt, and never fully goes away. When loved ones brush past this agony or rush to fix it without paying respects to its depths and complexity, that only rubs salt in the wounds and threatens to tear the relationship asunder.
Now, it’s not always like this, and not for everyone. Some have made peace with their disability, or don’t consider it a disability at all. Others, like me, go back and forth. Sometimes OK, sometimes not OK. Something I’ve learned about those times when I’m not OK is that I just want someone to weep with me. Alongside me. Next to me. It’s not that I want you to hurt with me because if I’m miserable, then everyone else has to be. It’s just that getting burned up by pain is lonely business, kids, and I wish so badly to not have to bear every part of it alone. I want you to listen, to step into the hurting with me, not away from me. Please, won’t you remind me what God says about me, about my inherent worth as someone made in his image, to tell me all is not lost, that God is good, and maybe even that I’m loved, still?
All of that has to start with a hard conversation, maybe an uncomfortable question or two, and that’s what Me Before You completely misses.
When Lou finally confronts Will about his plans, she mentions nothing of his inner turmoil; she simply begs him to change his mind. When Will refuses, she screams that she wishes she’d never met him and storms off. Like trying to clean up a knocked-over cup of milk by wiping the drips off the floor before mopping the spilled drink on the counter above, Lou’s attempts to convince Will to live fall short of any real help. She says she loves him, but here’s the thing: love doesn’t avoid, doesn’t pretend, doesn’t ignore what’s right in front of it. We seem to think that love only feels good, but I say it’s not love until the giving of it hurts.
Weeping with those who weep means just that—weeping as if their pain is our own, because it is. By his own gruesome suffering, to spare us a worse fate, Jesus made us a family, and charged us to bear each other’s burdens. We may not know how to do this, but we need only look to him, because he shows us how. Jesus does not merely tolerate us or heave a sigh and force a smile. He doesn’t “there, there” our pain at arm’s length. He suffered in our place on the cross and comforts us now. He will not ask us to do less than this for each other, for him. When someone is suffering, “they” are not suffering, over there, in the corner, away from us. No, when a brother or sister is suffering, we should be split open, too, because “they” are not suffering; we are. We’re a family, and to borrow from a completely different movie, family means nobody gets left behind. So get to weeping, fam.