I first met Michelle Sealey Lee in the spring of 1944. I was assigned to the British SAS and she was my liaison to the French Resistance. The moment I saw her short blond hair gleam in the mid-day sun breaking through the Ardennes Forest while she wiped an SS trooper’s blood off her commando knife, I knew she was something special. I wish I could effectively communicate the drama, excitement and sheer terror of those times – we were always in constant fear of capture, always on the run from one or more squads of Gestapo goons and always prepared to sacrifice our lives for our comrades, should the need arise. That sort of pressure is a crucible from which life-long friendships can be forged.
OK, not much of the above paragraph is accurate in terms of the details. But in terms of the emotions it evokes, I think it’s spot-on. And I suppose such a bold claim requires some explanation. Lets begin with the fact that the people around you in high-pressure, high-stress situations do indeed become bonded to you in some special way. For example, I can recall every member of my squad in basic training in exquisite detail because, while we never saw combat, we were living in close quarters during a very exciting time. By the same token, people who survive natural disasters together remain bonded in a very specific way. Even shared traumas on a national level bring us closer together (“Where were you and what were you doing on 9/11?”).
So what makes Michelle special is that she can interact with people and bond with them in the same way people bond over stress or sorrow – but (and here’s the amazing part) without the shared stress or sorrow.
How does she do it?
I think it has a lot to do with her having a lot of empathy but I think more importantly, in a very real way, she has shared our stress and sorrow, Maybe not yours or my specific stress and sorrow, but shared stress and sorrow all the same. (The Germans, as they usually do, have a term for this shared sorrow: weltschmertz). So I’ve been divorced and it caused me a lot of pain and guess what? So has Michelle. And I worry about how I’m raising my kids and guess what, so does Michelle. I’ve been a puppet, a pauper, a pirate, a poet, a pawn and a king – and so has she. I met her through one of my best friends (who had the great good fortune to marry her) and immediately felt as if she and I had been friends for years. Her gift is that she can connect with you because of your shared experiences, even if they were shared separately, so to speak.
There are a lot of blogs out there, a lot of people offering their take on the world, their two cents – but I always am interested in what Michelle has to say. Because I know she understands how hard life can be, how much of a struggle every day really is – I know she gets it, she knows what I’m going through because she’s going through it too. So while Michelle and I didn’t really meet in France in the spring of 1944, I feel like we are veterans – veterans of this ongoing battle without end called Life. Some days I feel like wounds are all I’m made of and, guess what? So does Michelle.