When I was a kid, my family had an old Catalina that was inherited after my grandmother died. She was no spring chicken when we got her and we drove her hard – the car, not my grandmother (sheesh!) - all around Florida in the heat.
For awhile, she had a little issue where she would overheat and begin to die and my dad would pull over someplace where he thought he might be able to find water and we’d all pile out and stand around with sour looks on our faces. I distinctly remember one farm. They had such nice grass and a lovely garden. We asked to use their garden hose and they were terribly helpful - bustling about - and then we all stood away from the front of the car as we had been admonished to do while my dad got a rag and opened the radiator cap. And then we watched the arc of orange boiling liquid spew out over their lovely garden. They looked a little shocked. We probably looked a little bored. Then we refilled, thanked them, and drove away. They may still be standing in that yard.
That car would projectile vomit all over the yards of strangers. I’m not sure they knew they’d get gacked-upon in the bargain when they agreed to help the poor, stranded family. Sorry, nice people!
But what could we do? That car had something boiling and raging inside her and she had to let it go. Had to. Or she would have died.
When I think about how I have been helped by others – especially in recent years – the many many ways are too numerous to write down. With the sick baby, people sent money and cards and brought food and volunteered to sit with our toddler and drove people places. My mother-in-law was given a place to stay. My sister took a month off from work to care for Bunny. Too much. Too much kindness. More than I can ever repay.
Similarly, when the sudden divorce happened, people stepped in. They babysat so that I could meet with lawyers, a friend retiled my bathroom and built Pip’s bed, my brother-in-law hung curtains in the kids’ rooms, my sister showed up again…cared for the kids again. And again, it was more than I can ever repay.
But you know what the most important thing was that they did? They listened. They listened and listened. And that was a big task. Because, both times, there was stuff bubbling up inside me that was boiling and raging and the only way to not let it take over was to let it out. It was probably a rusty orange color (just like that car) and maybe pretty chunky (like Pip’s horrendous stomach flu last week that shot across my bathroom and ran down the wall at 1:30am.) And it couldn’t have been any more pleasant.
But they listened. And listened. And, because the pressure and the boiling and the rage and the pain would build back up again after it was released, they listened again. And again.
And, in doing so, they saved me.
The best and healthiest thing you can do for yourself when the pain becomes unbearable is to spew it – not by lashing out at others – but by expressing your pain and anger and hurt and disbelief to someone you trust (or, you know, a relative stranger if no one else is around...sorry retail people and pediatric nurses...you went above and beyond and I appreciate it) and watching those same emotions flicker through their eyes.
And sometimes the very best thing you can do for someone who is hurting is to do absolutely nothing at all except be there and hear them and acknowledge that it is happening.
So thank you to my friends and family who listened. You know who you are. And I’m sorry for the drool stains on a certain pillow in a certain living room from that one really bad night. And I feel really badly about any shirt sleeves I may have stained. That wasn’t silk, was it? I hope not.
And thank you to you if you are reading. You know who you are, right?
I mean, you’re reading this, right? So….yeah.
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