Much mail has poured in following my last blog post.
You know, when I decide to write and publish something, I sometimes wonder if anyone will care. "Will anyone resonate with this?" "Will this be a bunch of noise in their inbox, or will it add to their lives?" Often, I jump in, trusting that if it matters to me, it may matter to at least one more person. And one person makes it worth it.
So last week, I shared about my time in the rose garden, and what I learned over there while sipping the-best-tea-in-the-world.
As I finished writing and got ready to share it with the world, I had a feeling that I had forgotten something, but I could not grasp it. So, being the impatient writer that I am, I pressed "send." And then I also sent it to my friend, who had inspired it.
Within minutes, I was reminded of the one point I had forgotten to mention. Conveniently so.
The evening before we were supposed to meet, I learned that there was most likely going to be a lot of rain the next day. The day when I was going to be on the road for 8 hours with a pup in the seat next to me. That felt pretty daunting, and as I scanned the horizon on the trip, it occurred to me that it may not be so wise to make a stop along the way, that maybe it would be best to push through. Considering that option, I texted my friend to let her know of my possible change of plans.
I did not hear back from her that night, and the next morning, the sky looking somewhat friendly, I let her know that I would see her soon.
We met, we had a heart biggering time (see the previous post), and as she walked me to my car, she told me how glad she was that I had not canceled, after all. Something in her voice made me pay extra close attention. "I was pretty devastated that you may not be coming," she continued. For the twenty-plus years that span our deep friendship, she and I had made hundreds of plans together and canceled a bunch of them, too. Sometimes at the last minute, with nothing more than a "no worries, sweetie. I will see you soon," from either one of us. This was different. Because, right now, everything was different. She explained that she felt so "needy" (her words) and so sensitive (my words) that any broken hope of possible connection was painful. I got it. And I got how much I had not gotten it.
So there it was, "the missing point." The conveniently missing point.
As an addendum to the original list, I now want to add two points:
If you make plans with your friend, don't break them. Better to not promise than to cancel. This is a different world and what was ok "before," no longer is. Her words (yes, she is a beautiful writer): "Don't say you are going to connect, and then don't, if at all possible. When you are not seeing anyone or having anything in life just for yourself, other people's commitments to you are like pitons that anchor you and hold the weighty burden of your life. When they pull out, you fall."
When offering help, be specific. Because life is so overwhelming, it's hard to think of answering vague requests. Instead of "what can I do for you?" ask: "I am going to stop by the Farmer's Market tomorrow afternoon. What can I pick up for you?" "I am going to drive past your house, may I drop off a bouquet by your front door?"
So there you go. Thank you for letting me take you with me on this ride of becoming a better friend.
Last weekend, I was sipping the best tea in the world in a rose garden, somewhere in Oregon. The sky had stopped raining precisely long enough for my friend and me to meet and share our hearts as I drove through the city where she lives.
The last eight months have been the hardest of her life. When describing them, she uses the word "nightmare" more than once, and when I look into her eyes and feel the weight inside my own chest, I know that she does not even have the names to describe the nightmare. A very sick grandbaby and all the pieces that go with that. Big pieces, small pieces, so many pieces. Each sharp as glass shards with a multitude of surfaces onto which to cut one's heart.
As we drink the tea that only she can make, I listen. As I dunk the cookie that only she can bake, I listen. Until there are no more words to use - until she is empty and yet still full of something that has become part of her.
Then she asks me to tell her about my life.
A few months ago, at the end of a long heart-emptying phone conversation, she had asked me the same thing. I had just returned from a trip to Italy, and having caught me up on the latest heartbreak of her family's pain, she wanted to hear about my travel. But I had run out of time, and I needed to get back to work. I told her that I would call her soon and tell her all about it. The days passed, and I didn't. I justified it by knowing that our phone call surely had been helpful, as I had listened to every word she wanted to give me, any update.
I was wrong.
Last weekend, after spilling out her pain, she wanted to hear about my life. She needed to hear about my life. The good part, and the hard parts, too.
This time, I heard her request. And so I told her about the madness of late, my own heartbreak, the beautiful sunsets, the doubts, the certainty, my puppy, my vision, my gratitude. I told her about me, in no particular order - and she took it all in.
Several times, as I shared with her pieces of my own life, I wanted to stop and say: "hey, I know that this is nothing compared to what you are going through" - but I didn't. Because she had asked about my life and this time, I was going to tell her about it.
During our time together, I learned three critical points about being a good friend to someone who is going through a terribly difficult time. Not a time of grief, exactly, but a time of profound uncertainty, exhaustion, and as she explained to me, isolation.
Today, I want to share these three points with you because I know that just like me, you may love someone deeply, and yet miss the mark on how to love them best through these moments, moments that can last months and months.
Stay connected. My friend explained to me that most of the people in her life have vanished over the last eight months. Too much pain, too much darkness, not knowing what to do, what to say. It is easier to step away than to feel helpless and awkward. Also, she tells me that as much as she needs space to process, rest, and just plain be with the difficult demands that every day brings, she also yearns to feel connected. So yes, it's a tough dance. "Texts," she says. Just little words that show up through her day, asking nothing in return and just letting her know that she is not entirely alone nor forgotten. "Thinking about you." "Good morning." "Love you." She tells me that these mean so much to her, even when she does not have the time or energy to respond.
Sharing bits of your own life. She says that hearing about other people's lives makes her feel connected to another place and time, and gives her some energy, like taking a breath of air for a moment. Also, don't apologize, compare, or minimize your own stuff.
Ask your friend out for a short walk or a cup of tea somewhere. Make it easy. Maybe just sit on his or her front porch or go for a trip around the block. Listen. Tiny moments. Tiny resets, tiny windows out of "the island," that place where things are now so familiar and so heavy. Again, tiny breaths of fresh air. Even ten minutes. Last July, I drove down to where she lives, about 5 hours away, to have breakfast with her. Of all the things I have not done very right for her, I am so glad I did that. I want to do more of it.
I'm sure there's more, and I know that I am still learning. But the main thing I learned is that when things are SO difficult for someone we love, we tend to have the feeling that there is nothing we can do. We can't heal the tiny bodies hurting, we can't take away the dread, and we can't make the nightmare go away. But we can, as we French like to say, "put butter in the spinach." And that's still a huge deal.
So today, I invite you to remember that you do have that Super Power. I invite you to remember that comparison does not serve, that we CAN push past the awkwardness and the modesty, the fear, too. And that when we don't do it quite right, we can learn and get better.
Something started bubbling up for me last night. A memory of several years ago and a current exploration of how else I could have shown up at that moment.
I brought this exploration to my morning pages and in doing so, connected with a new version of me. A more courageous version of me, and a more self knowing version of me.
I believe - I want very much to believe, - that faced with the same situation today, I would act much differently. I would still feel the difficulty, the awkwardness, the potential grief also, but maybe I would step over them the way we might step over a bunch of laundry spilled out into the floor. I would see them and their messiness, their inconvenience, and I would know that at some point I would have to deal with them. But I would love me enough to walk away. Really, I would KNOW me enough to walk away.
These moments are tender and delicious. They show us the places where we have stretched enough times that we now accommodate a more authentic “us.”
Having finished my own writing, I reached for Mark Nepo’s book and opened it to today’s piece. This is what I read:
“I have come to believe that we are destined to be opened by the living of our days, and whether we like it or not, whether we choose to participate or not, we will, in time, everyone of us, wear the deeper part of who we are as a new skin. Either by erosion from without or by shedding from within – and often by both – we are forced to live more authentically.”
These are my musings for now 🙂
I hope your week is lovely.
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I write because this is the way I am able to taste life more deeply.