There were many times over the past five years when I was struck by the incredibly kind — and often completely random — outpouring of support we received from our community. Moms I’d never been introduced to would offer me tearful hugs in the hallways of the preschool. People I hadn’t seen in years would drop meals off at our house. Old friends my kids had never met would offer to babysit or take Braedan on an outing when we were in the hospital and I’d have to politely turn them down because no way was I shipping that boy off with anyone he didn’t know. People would tell me that they think of us every day and pray for us every night and cry for us, wish for us, hope for us. Sometimes, I couldn’t help but think, “Really? You do?”
But then tragedy strikes elsewhere and I totally get it. The shoe is on the other foot as I find myself thinking day and night about the woman who lost her husband completely unexpectedly a week ago. I’d known her a tiny bit when our oldest were babies and then I’d seen her at the grocery store every now and again. And then our kids were on the same baseball team this spring when, suddenly, she’s on my mind nonstop. A widow just my age. With three little kids. So I offer to pick up her boys and take them to baseball practice even though I barely knew their names a week ago. And I sign up to deliver a meal. And Mark asks me to run by her house to make sure her lawn doesn’t need mowing.
And then there’s another family we know, whose son is slowly dying after a brutal ten-year battle with cancer. And I find myself sharing their story and getting choked up as I repeat over and over again how damn hard they’ve fought. How endlessly long and endlessly hard they’ve fought for all these years . . . and now there’s an end. So I obsessively check their Facebook pages for the latest news, glance down their street as I drive past like it will tell me something. And I wonder — am I just being nosy? Is this rubbernecking at a car accident? But I feel such a strong need to know so I can … what? Drop off more food? Send a card?
I understand now. I understand how you all felt — both hopeless and hopeful, a little bit guilty for your curiosity, for taking such an intimate glimpse at another family’s suffering, and yet consumed by it. I know why you followed us, sometimes quietly, with such consistency, for so many years. I understand the cookies and the muffins and the casseroles and the coffee. I feel the drive to give that tearful hug. I get it. We all just want to do something. We want to somehow ease the paths of those in crisis. We wish that they could take that huge chunk of sadness they’re forced to bear and break it up into tiny, more manageable pieces. That they could pass off those pieces to their friends and neighbors and, yes, to mere acquaintances and probably even total strangers. We could all handle just one small piece of their sadness, that wouldn’t be too much. We could just quietly hold on to it for them, to lighten their burden, and maybe trade a little piece of our own strength or joy or peace.
We can’t, of course, but we can want to. That wanting is worth something. It was worth something to me at least. And hopefully it’s worth something to them.