You just don’t know who might be suffering around you. You can’t always tell at a glance or even at hello.
Your colleague may be coping with an aging parent, your neighbor could have just lost his job and the checker at the grocery store may not be able to keep up the payments on her home.
Until about three years ago, when my dad was diagnosed with cancer, my life had been relatively smooth sailing. I’ve had to cope with illness and injury in loved ones, and I navigated the sad waters of a failed marriage. But compared to the burdens some people have, I’ve gotten off pretty easy.
Sadly, my younger brother, Beau, is critically ill and over the last month has spent more days in the hospital than not. In the last week his already tenuous condition has turned even worse and the family has been circling around.
My mom said, when you don’t know what to do, you just show up. She thought it was from Anne Lamott so I looked it up:
Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.
And it is hard work. Just being there is tough, seeing the suffering, feeling hopeless, but trying to hold on to shreds of hope in the data from the medical staff or in the actions of a caring, skilled lab tech. Showing up isn’t defined as being right there either. Showing up means taking care of a load of laundry because the washer broke. Or getting the dogs outside or baking some cookies or making a pot of spaghetti.
When I’m at work, I can stay busy for a few hours in the morning. Distracting myself with email and phone messages and other tasks works for awhile, but I lose my focus and get antsy. At night (it is currently 3:19 AM) when I can’t turn off my brain, and in the hospital waiting room, mindless games on the laptop, iPad or Kindle are sometimes the best I can manage.
I guess I’m just trying to remind myself that all around me, even if I’m not aware of it, many of us are coping with some quiet heartache.
The best I can offer as a response is to suggest we all try and find love and compassion for those whose paths cross ours. We should try and treat ourselves and each other tenderly; with empathy, respect and patience.
Update: A friend shared on Facebook that her husband had a friend tell him “When in doubt, choose the loving thing to do.” Exactly.
I’m grateful for the love, support and prayers offered on behalf of my brother, his family and friends.