Showing Up

When I was young, we called them old folks homes. People use more enlightened terminology these days. Retirement Homes. Assisted Living. Convalescent Homes. Unfortunately, these places are still quite often used as warehouses for the elderly and the inconvenient.

Having chosen not to have children, I often worry about my future. I don’t fear death. What I fear is winding up in one of those human warehouses, my body being indifferently maintained by strangers. That, to me, would be hell on earth.

I come by that feeling honestly. There’s an image embedded deep in my brain that I will carry with me for as long as I live. It is of an old, emaciated man, in a dimly lit room, and he’s crying.

I must have been about 8 or 9 years old. I was on a field trip. We had spent several days hand making Christmas cards in class in preparation for our visit to an old folks home nearby. We sang Christmas carols, and we gave out these cards.

I was a shy, quiet, chronically depressed child. All this activity and noise had me really intimidated. I hung back and watched as the other kids gave out their cards, with mixed results. Many of the patients were unresponsive. One ate a card as if it were a Christmas cookie. The attendants seemed unconcerned.

Other residents were, if anything, overly responsive, shouting with delight and giving bear hugs. They scared me most of all. I don’t come from a demonstrative household, and I wasn’t comfortable with this kind of behavior from total strangers. I didn’t want to give my card to one of them. It would take some research to find the perfect nonintrusive and yet mentally present elderly person to interact with.

One advantage to being the most quiet child in a group is that you get to fly under the radar. That’s how I found myself wandering all alone down a deserted side hall. It was quiet there. What a relief.

At the end of the hall I saw a partially opened door. I peeked inside. The shades were closed and the lights were low. It was really hard to see, but I could tell that there was someone lying in a bed. I thought this person was sleeping. Maybe I could sneak in and leave the card on the nightstand and then make a break for it, having fulfilled my obligation.

So I went inside, approaching the bed as quietly as I could. But before I could put the card down, a claw-like hand reached out and took it. I turned to look at the man, and was instantly terrified. He had tubes and wires coming from all directions, and he was so skeletally thin that he barely looked alive. And yet there he was, gazing at my card. My heart was pounding out of my chest.

And then he started to cry. I hate it when men cry, because many of them do it so rarely that it means they really, really feel it. It makes me feel helpless.

He said, “Nobody ever comes to visit me. Thank you so much.”

I said, “You’re welcome. I have to go now.” And I backed out of the room.

The adult me wishes I had done more. I wish I had stayed and talked. I wish I had touched his hand. I wish I had wished him a Merry Christmas. Something. But I was just a scared kid who was entirely out of her element.

I haven’t always been able to afford fancy gifts at this time of year. But sometimes the greatest gift you can give someone is to just show up. Ever since that long ago day, I’ve done my best to at least show up for the people in my life. It’s not much, but sometimes it can be everything.

Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate it. Equal amounts of love and respect to those who don’t.

hospital1_J

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What a Difference a Person Can Make

Last year, I went with a friend to the Great Figgy Pudding Caroling Competition here in Seattle, and I blogged about it. I had a wonderful time. But beneath the surface, I was feeling this great, yawning, howling, aching chasm of loneliness.

While I spent most of the holidays bravely stuffing that down and trying not to let it overwhelm me, it was a very near thing. Sometimes I could feel it surging upward, and I knew that if I let it take over, I’d probably lose my battle with depression and start howling or something.

Even so, Figgy Pudding is a wonderful event, and I decided to make it part of my Christmas tradition. I went again this year with my husband. As we stood there, listening to the carolers beneath the glow of the huge Christmas tree, what I felt was joy. No physically painful ache in the pit of my stomach. No feeling of being on the verge of hysteria. Just contentment. What a gift this man is in my life. He’s all I need for Christmas.

And then I looked around at the crowd, and I realized that no one who looked at me this year or last would have known my state of mind. I’m sure there was a lot of joy in the crowd, but also a lot of longing for companionship. A lot of pervasive emotional pain. The fact that it often looks one and the same is a bit troubling.

I’m not saying that everyone in the whole world must walk about two by two in order to be happy. Some people are perfectly satisfied being alone. I know I felt that way for quite some time. Some people who are in relationships are even more lonely than their single friends, and that’s got to be even more emotionally excruciating.

I just find it kind of enlightening to realize that there’s really no way to know what’s going on beneath the surface unless you talk to someone. We need to communicate more. We need to put down our devices and actually connect.

And to those of you who are swirling in that deep dark pit of loneliness that I used to know all too well, I just want to say that it may feel like that’s your forever, but keep reaching out. You never know when someone will take your outstretched hand, and that changes everything. I’m living proof of that.

Carolers

An attitude of gratitude is what you need to get along. Read my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Thwart a Terrorist — Build a Bridge

As I’ve mentioned before, my most viewed blog entry is the one on Bridge Symbolism. It’s viewed about 25 times a day, by people all over the world. I have no idea why, but it gratifies me. Now more than ever.

Bridges symbolize connection more than anything else. They join places and people together that might otherwise find it difficult to interact. They link us. They allow us to reach out.

In a world where terrorism seems to be on the rise (as we have all seen recently), it is more important than ever to connect. Terrorists are the very opposite of bridges. They want to cause disconnection. They want us to stop interacting and communicating and learning about one another. They do not want us to be linked. In fact, they want to block our paths. They want us to be afraid to go around the next corner or across the next border.

So I implore you to reject all forms of disconnection and isolation. Cast off all forms of hatred. Extend your hand to your neighbor. Cross over. Make someone welcome. Be a bridge.

Reaching-Out-to-Employers
[Image credit: careerrocketeer.com]

Humbly Reaching Out

From a recent conversation with my boyfriend:

Me: All of a sudden so many good things are happening in my life! I’ve got that job interview, I got a promotion in my captioning job, I got my 100th follower on my blog, and I just saved a couple hundred bucks by transferring a credit card balance. Could it be that the pendulum is swinging back the other way, finally? Could my luck be changing? I should buy a lottery ticket.

BF: Just remember that this is from YOU reaching out. Not the other way around. Keep reaching out and the way will show itself to you.

Me: You’re right. But, too, it DOES seem like it is the very times when I step back and surrender and stop trying to force things…that’s when things start to get better. Sometimes I just have to get out of my own way.

BF: I learned that from hitchhiking. The more you want and NEED a ride, the less chance someone will stop.

Me: Exactly! So, reach out by sticking your thumb out, but don’t add desperation into the mix. Don’t insist. Don’t expect everything at once. Just make yourself available to the abundance should it come your way, and then see what happens.

————–

That’s a difficult balance to maintain. Reaching out but not clutching, grasping, forcing it. Being humble without being passive. Being open without having expectations. Trying to reach a goal without anticipating an outcome. Having faith but taking responsibility for yourself.

I think finding the right balance will be something I’ll have to work on my entire life. But as it stands now, I did wind up getting the job!

On the other hand, I only matched two out of the six numbers on that lottery ticket. But hey, that’s one number more than is usual for me! Which is probably why I rarely buy them.

Hitchhiker Jericho

[Image credit: solanotempest.net]

P.S. Please do not take this as an endorsement of hitchhiking. In this day and age it’s entirely too dangerous. Getting across town, let alone across the country, isn’t worth your life. Unfortunately, this is not the world of my youth.