I have this idea I really want to write about. I grab my notebook and sketch out an outline. I pull a sheet from my morning pages—a sheet where ideas started forming. I sit down at the computer and open up Firefox and type in some search terms…and I start to think.
I think about talking with a dear friend on Wednesday—oh, what a treat to talk for an hour and fifteen minutes: our first conversation since her catastrophic diagnosis, since the round of specialists began, since chemo didn’t work, since the people at the university medical center said no, clinical trials aren’t for you, and talked about something called ‘comfort care.’
A devastating whirl of events, but she is not giving up. “I want,” she said, “to be there as my grandchildren group up. Does that sound crazy?”
Nah, I said, in my best tough-girl voice. Nah. That doesn’t sound crazy at all. I squished some sodden kleenex onto the table next to the chair where I sat, talking with my dear sweet friend, who sounded strong and upbeat and filled with hope. I’m glad we were not face-timing; I’m glad she couldn’t see my red eyes.
I wasn’t sad, exactly, although I hate this stupid illness and the discomfort and the pain that she has hit head-on. I was more blown away by the courage she’s showing, by her strong, firm, voice, by her strong support system, and by the plan they’re putting together: a holistic, well-researched, hopeful plan.
“Just because science can’t do it,” said my friend’s sweet daughter, “it doesn’t mean it can’t be done.”
And it hits me again, the courage people show, that quiet courage that lifts up some everyday lives.
I know a woman whose son is developmentally disabled; he has graduated from his traditional schooling program, and he struggles, each day, to fit himself into the programs that are available. He gets discouraged. It is hard for him to start new things, to meet new people.
He has a great placement; it is a happy six weeks, and then it is time to move on to something new.
He is scared. He is tired of change. He wants to stay home.
His mother bucks him up. “It will be,” she tells him, “okay. You can do this. They’re nice people. Remember we went and met them last week?”
He hangs his head. She helps him pick out his clothes for the day. She feeds him a special breakfast. She packs a lunch that he can look forward to, and when the van arrives, she walks him cheerfully to the door.
He treads, slowly, reluctantly to the van; the driver shifts the door open and the boy grabs a handle and heaves himself in. He plops in a seat and flicks a hand at his mother, who waits, thumbs up, smiling an encouraging smile, in the front door.
It is not until the van is well and truly away that she lets the tears fall. Will her boy be okay?
And yet, she finds the courage every day, to cheer him on, to buck him up, to assure him that a valid, meaningful life is out there waiting for him. They just have to find it, to find the right thing.
I have a friend who has had an unimaginable loss, a loss that blindsides her several times a day. It is not the kind of loss you get over; it is not a pain that lessens.
And yet, there she is at lunch, a warm smile on her face. She listens quietly to the swirling talk; she asks people questions about their lives and kids and friends and pets.
And I know that she is aching and gob-smacked, and but she shows up and takes part, showing interest, being a friend.
What does that kind of bravery cost?
I have a friend whose child has the disease of addiction and who has, finally, opened her arms to treatment. It is not the first time she’s tried to stop; there have been disappointments and there have been false starts. That girl’s addiction has trampled relationships; she has started ten jobs and lost them. She has lied and she has stolen.
Her mother has sought out support groups and counseling; she has gone with her daughter, and she has gone without her. She has cradled that grown-up, raddled child in her arms and they have cried together. She has told that grown-up child no, and she has stuck to her word, even though the daughter screams and accuses and pleads and threatens.
She has even called the police and watched them take her baby away in a squad car.
She has done all of these things, but she has never given up. It often, she tells me, takes six or eight times at rehab before a recovery program works.
And this, she says now, this is the time that going to work. She goes to the family counseling sessions. She calls friends from her support groups on nights that are dark and scary. She prays; she prays morning, noon, and night.
She believes it is possible, and she believes that this time that magic doorway will swing open.
And if it doesn’t—well, we’ll start all over again, she says grimly. But really; I have a feeling. This is THE time.
It stops you, doesn’t it? It brings you up short. The people who get up every day and plunge on anyway, who carry that illness, that loss, that addiction, that disability, that diagnosis, like a bagged-up burden; they march ahead and they balance the weight of that burden with a heavy satchel full of hope.
What was I going to write about again? Ah, well. I’ll get to that tomorrow. Today all that courage—that everyday courage—sits front and center, occupies my mind.