I fell often when I was a kid. Over things, on top of things, into things, down stairs and up stairs. I was famously clumsy.
And all those falls came with lots of minor scrapes and bruises and cuts. Did my mother kiss me and make it better? Not that I remember. Instead, she was likely to say, “What do you expect me to do? Get yourself a Band-Aid.”
My parents were tough and expected the same from us. Sometimes that was a good thing, a way to endure a hard life. The family had gone through a lot. Both my mother and father lost a parent when they were kids, and life had never been easy for either. My older brother got polio; my younger brother lost a leg in an accident. And the lesson learned was always the same: Life is hard; don’t make a fuss.
I internalized the lesson too much. Not only do I try never to make a fuss, but I expect others not to make a fuss either. And frankly, I haven’t always understood or responded adequately to the suffering of others.
Recently I broke my arm. No big deal, eh? A month or two in a sling, physical therapy, and I’ll be good as new.
Wrong. It hurt a lot! Who knew? And not having the use of my right arm is a huge pain in the butt. I can’t drive. My leftie handwriting looks like a first grader and takes me forever. I can’t cut my food or slice vegetables to cook. I can’t tie my shoes or fasten my bra. I put on a happy face for Facebook, “healing nicely,” but it’s Facebook semi-truth. You know–when you post only good stuff somewhat resembling the crotchety, messy truth.
I think of all the accidents and illnesses of friends and family. Have I been as empathetic as I should have been? I don’t think so.
On the other hand, my friends and family have come through for me in a big way. I have received a flurry of greeting cards with kind wishes. They sit on my mantle where I can see them often. More kind words on Facebook, in texts, emails, phone calls. Friends have brought me casseroles, homemade bread, sliced cheese for sandwiches, salads, snacks, side dishes, and desserts, They brought fresh food for now and frozen food ready for another week’s dinners. They’ve sent flowers. They’ve offered to drive because they know I can’t. One friend suggested they’d come for Sunday dinner—and they’d bring the dinner, appetizer to dessert. Two of my stepdaughters even spent time with me in the early days, cooking, doing laundry, shopping.
Many who helped knew what the challenges were because they’d been there themselves. I smiled at an early gift of a little stack of toilet paper neatly torn into convenient lengths. But she knew what I didn’t yet: it’s hard to tear using only one’s non-dominant hand.
Would I have done as much as my friends & family have been doing for me? Not really. After all, it’s only a broken arm.
I might have said, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” And if they never asked, I might have thought they were doing just fine. And I might have meant to send a card, but too often never got around to it. And I might have wondered where’s the need to cook and bring a casserole nowadays, what with take-out restaurants and spouses to help out?
On the other hand, the kind wishes of others have been a welcome balm to me. And those dinners have been a godsend. (Pizza and Chinese food get very tiresome.) Jay has been hugely supportive, but his repertoire is definitely limited. And every other bit of help has been just that–truly good for me and appreciated. Happily I am retired and don’t have to get myself to work no matter what. It’s been nice not having to be so gosh darned brave and strong all the time, to sit in our big recliner reading lightweight mysteries (recommended by friends) and to let myself heal.
In the future, I hope that I do as much for others as they have done for me. And more than that, I hope I remain receptive to the kindness so generously offered me.
In a card, a friend included words from a Rumi poem. I’d like to share them with you.
God created the child, that is, your wanting
So that it might cry out, so that milk might come
Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent
With your pain Lament! And let the milk
Of loving flow into you.
copyright June 8, 2016 by Margaret French
Margaret., I remember your kindness to Marty and me when he was in Hospice and Jay was our wonderful volunteer. You both came to the hospital that time Marty was taken to the emergency room; your presence was comforting. And you had me for a delicious dinner to your lovely home. What goes around comes around. You are so deserving of all the TLC bestowed on you now. I hope your recovery is complete very soon.
Thank you, Anne. Jay will never forget Marty. We both felt sad when he died and we both are glad we got to know you.
Thanks, Margaret! Seriously and delightfully put!
You certainly were there when I broke several bones. Even if you did not fully feel my discomforts and limitations! Thank goodness! Sorry, you are having to feel your own now intimately. If we just have a large enough number of friends, as you and I did, we are lucky. Each does what he/she is capable of and the sum total of big little kindnesses is grand. Enjoy your recliner and keep reading mysteries!
I love that thought: the sum total of little kindnesses.
Oh Margaret, this is fabulous!!!! Sorry all you got from me was a card! (However, you are on my prayer list — for whatever that is worth or not.) But this will inspire me to do more. I often “never get around to it.” I also appreciated what people did after my eye surgery. (But didn’t mind when people left me alone either — peace and quiet were good for me.) Anyway, thanks for this post, which I have printed out and will keep to remind me of what is important!
Siri, The car touched my heart. Many small kindnesses add up. Thank you.
Margaret, Thank You! for sharing your ‘real’ story. I read somewhere that our vulnerability is our only real gift to each other. It feels that way to read your story. I have three other friends who have fallen lately. (I wonder what analogy these ‘trips’ have for us?) One is healing from a fractured hip 2 hours away from home where it happened, one has a gash on her head, but seems to be okay otherwise, and one has a contusion on her arm. Your story is helping me to see their side and to try to be there for them as much as I can. I like how you referred to doing for others, but also being receptive to what others do for us – as equal ways of spreading the love.
(How revealing that I have wanted to send you a card, but only got around to signing a group card from Caffe Lena). Ironically, by not sending you a card, you were even more in my thoughts every day as I told myself I must send that card!
Anyway, I am so happy to see that you are on the mend and was amazed to hear that it took four weeks for you to be able to sleep in your own bed!
Margaret, you have written another hit! I ALWAYS enjoy reading and listening to your stories. I am sorry you have been in so much pain with your broken arm, but glad that others stepped up with thoughtful and heartwarming ways to help. I loved the Rumi quote you shared and have kept a copy of it. I look forward to seeing both you and Jay soon.
Margaret, I am not sure what happened to my first reply. I said something like this: You have written another hit! I ALWAYS enjoy the stories you write and tell. I am sorry you have been in so much pain and have found “normal” tasks so difficult to accomplish, but am glad that others have stepped up with such helpful and heartwarming ways of helping. I look forward to seeing you and Jay sometime soon. ~Colette
Margaret, perhaps three times is the charm. I have tried to leave you a message twice earlier this morning and am not sure why my words are not posting. I have tried to say something like this: Margaret you have written another hit! I ALWAYS enjoy the stories that you write and tell. I am sorry that you have been in so much pain and have had so much difficulty doing “normal” things, but I am glad that others have stepped up with helpful and heartwarming help. Ending with a quotation is a great way to go, and I loved the words from Rumi. I have saved them to share. I hope you and Jay have a great summer, and I hope to see you both sometime soon. ~Colette
Got all your lovely comments. Thank you.
Glad you are feeling better. Wish you guys were here.
Me too. xoxo
Hello my dear friend,
This may have been a reflection of hind sight in someways for you, but as always your writings as you reflect are insightful for me!
It’s July 4th, and I just got around to saying, “Margaret French sent a link to her blog recently, I should dig it out and take a look.” I’m glad I did.
I think I’m probably better at empathy than at actually doing useful things to help people. Your line about saying, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do” sounds like something I would say as well. I recall reading about a family whose farmhouse burned down. The first neighbor to visit kicked at the burnt timbers, said “Let me know if there’s anything I can do”, and left. The next neighbor to get there arrived with a tent, cots, blankets, and helped them start rebuilding. I admire people who react like that. Empathy I’ve got, but I often lack the presence of mind to do something useful.