It is a terrifying word to most men, as it leads them to face fears of a loss of their potency. For most, it connotes an end to sexual strength, the power of the male of our species. And it affects many, for many different medical and/or psychological reasons. Thankfully, there are some powerful medical treatments that apparently work well.
But the word “impotent” can also describe other horrifying feelings of powerlessness beyond the sexual. One can be politically impotent, without the ability to make things happen in the public sphere. One can be impotent in one’s career, unable to bring one’s work to a climactic finish. In each case and others, this helplessness strikes fear in the heart of men because what is a man anyway – we sometimes think – if not someone who can “make things happen”?
When Illness Strikes
There is also an all-consuming sense of impotence that men (and women) sometimes feel when facing a loved one with a terrible, potentially incurable disease. We sit there, holding a hand, sharing a story – perhaps calling from a distance away – trying to somehow make it better for him, but realizing yet again our own limitations. We want to do something, and yet, we feel incredibly powerless, helpless. Impotent.
My uncle Skip is dying; and of course his wife, my auntie Rozzy, is suffering too. And here I sit, 3000 miles away, unable to do anything to really make it better. For either of them. I am saddened, and feel powerless. Helpless. Impotent.
Our Precious Presence
Pastoral counselors teach that visiting – or calling, sending a note or the like – offers the most important gift we have to give. Its our “precious presence.”
In fact, responding psychologically to disease, Judaism teaches that “bikur cholim”, visiting the sick, removes 1/60 of the disease. Like those little blue pills, our visits or calls provide uplift, combat hopelessness, and make the future seem all that much more doable.
And so, instead of sitting here feeling helpless… I call, try to tell her stories, try to listen, and do my 1/60 of the holy work.
It doesn’t always feel like enough.
May it be enough.
It will have to be enough.