So there is a point when curing is considered complete but healing is a lifelong process that we are involved with all of the time. It is possible for people to be cured and not heal and to heal in the absence of definitive cure. Sometimes people recover physical integrity but they do not heal emotionally or mentally or spiritually; they live their lives in fear of recurrence or in bitterness over their past losses. Others never recover their physical integrity but live with a greater passion and authenticity than before.
In the presence of chronic illness and even because of it, people are often able to grow as persons in their capacity to love and feel compassion, their sensitivity and understandings, their courage and wisdom. Because of this capacity for growth it is possible for people to lead a full life despite ongoing illness, to lead a meaningful life even though it is not an easy life or even a long life.
It is hard to believe that we can heal others when we know we are wounded ourselves. But often our own wounds make us trustworthy and give us the wisdom and power to heal. Our wounds enable us to trust the healing process. Our hurts can move us beyond judgment and teach us compassion for the hurts of other people. Our loneliness enables us to recognize the hidden loneliness in others despite the masks that we all wear and to find them when they are lost in the dark. It has been humbling to discover that often my medical expertise is not what makes the most difference to someone, but that they have been able to access their strength and transcend their suffering because of something I learned from my Russian grandmother or from my own fifty-three year personal experience with Crohn’s disease.
When we heal we abandon all such concerns and simply listen generously to someone¾not in order to position ourselves or even to understand what is being said. We listen just to know what is true for this person at this moment in time¾to witness it and validate it¾and accept it. The paradox being that the things we accept as true about ourselves lose their hold on us and we begin to change. In order to heal my pain, I must accept that I am in pain¾difficult as that is¾and someone else must acknowledge that I am in pain. Then we can begin to make change. Listening is the oldest and perhaps the most powerful tool of healing.