Showing Up

Well, I think we can all agree. Last week sucked.

In the midst of our national horrors, from the Boston bombings and subsequent manhunt to the gruesome explosion at a Texas fertilizer plan, Ian and I witnessed a much quieter, and to his family, no less tortuous drama – a colleague lost his wife in a dramatic, inexplicable and hearbreaking fashion. I actually knew the wife a bit better than her husband, having worked with her several times in the past six months. From her initial collapse early in the week, to life support until her family could all say goodbye, to her obituary which ran yesterday, her death in many ways overrode the national tragedies occuring, at least in our household.

I’m not sure if I’m qualified to say what a mother’s worst fear is, although I would have to guess losing your child is probably it. Perhaps second is passing away before your child reaches adulthood – passing away unexpectedly and quickly, with no chance to say goodbye, which is what happened to our friends. She left behind a six-year old daughter, and I can’t imagine the wrenching conversation that took place when her father told her her mother had passed away.

My father runs marathons and cross country skis competitively, and like Martin Richard, I have waited at countless finish lines in my life, cheering and rooting for him. Those finish lines always felt inherently safe, surrounded as I was by family and friends and a multitude of other supporters. That sense of safety was ripped away from thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of people last week and in its place comes a renewed vulnerability in open and public places.

What is safe? WHERE is safe? How can we continue to put one foot in front of the other when so much awfulness occurs, well, everywhere? We live in a world where people willingly kill one another for twisted, ideological beliefs, where we sacrifice the health of our earth for marginal profits, where too many people seem willing to further their own agenda in lieu of taking care of one another.

I felt shattered last week, and at the same time, so guiltyfor feeling shattered. After all, no one in my own family had died suddenly – I wasn’t in Boston or Texas during either tragedy. There is a danger in internalizing things too much, and I don’t want to become paralyzed the way I was immediately post-9/11, when wave after wave of panic overtook me for nearly a year and, from then on, every few months for almost a decade.

I don’t have much advice to offer, if you are like me and easily lost and, well, shattered, when Bad Things happen, but I can say this: it helps to show up. After 9/11, which, in retrospect, came on the heels of several terrible losses in my family, I failed at showing up, big-time. Barely in my second year of marriage, I was living in rural West Virginia with no friends or nearby family. I was unemployed and using food and cigarettes to assuage my depression. It was easy – too easy – to fall into the cable news cycle and in many ways I’ve been dealing with the effects of that one bad year ever since -conquering my addiction to cigarettes, struggling off and on with my weight ( which had never been an issue for me before), facing panic attacks instead of letting them overcome me.

So last week – Ian and I, we showed up. Ian went to the hospital whenever he could. We went to church. I checked in on those I know who have friends and family in Boston. With the exception of listening to some of the manhunt on Friday, I caught up on the latest news each morning – I didn’t drown myself in it. I went to yoga, swam laps at the pool, played for long hours with chalk in front of our house with Grace. Ian and I showed up for each other, for those who love us and for ourselves the best way we knew how, and it certainly worked better than cigarettes, beer, pizza, cable news and solitude, I can tell you that much.

I struggle when I hear bad news. I can’t even wrap my head around how someone can be here one minute and gone the next, especially when it’s from something as startling as cardiac arrest. The kind of death and destruction that comes from acts of terrorism I’m at least somewhat sort of able to wrap my head around, even though I’ll never make sense of it completely. What I do believe now in is the importance of creating a life one can be proud of – a life I can be happy living even if today were my last day on earth. Against all common sense that life, for us, is happening in Pittsburgh, in a 100-year old house that needs constant love, and it’s a smaller life than I imagined back in my bound-for-broadway teenage dreams. It includes an occasional cocktail before dinner, signing up for the church potluck, going to work and coming home and making dinner – it includes watching a bit of television with Ian each week and working a ton on our house, and lots of reading and writing and friends. It’s a blessed life – a beautiful life – one that makes showing up for others an easier choice than throwing up my arms and giving in.

This has been a hard post to write -I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because the myriad thoughts swirling around in my head aren’t organized enough for the written word, or maybe it’s because certain emotions should be left unexpressed, at least on the internet. I toyed around with writing a marriage Monday post on scorekeeping – I deleted another post about fashion that didn’t feel quite right, either. This is what I ended up writing when I showed up to write, so I am going to let it stand.

8 thoughts on “Showing Up

  1. Showing up is absolutely the thing to do. I once read something that still inspires me when the going gets tough, along the lines of ‘When life is hard and all you want to do is stay in bed and cry, just getting up to feed the children breakfast is the most spiritual thing you can do’. I think that’s another version of showing up – doing the small things that keep life ticking over even when all you want to do is collapse.

    I love your sense of gratitude for your beautiful, blessed life. I try to cultivate the same.

  2. So sorry to hear about Ian’s colleague. But I loved the message about showing up. We’ve had a frightful time of late as well (no deaths but just really struggling to cope with everything). You’ve reminded me that I should perhaps post about it (on my other blog) since that helps to put it all into perspective. Showing up definitely helps.

    And I can relate to much of what your write about. It was weird for me to feel so affected by the Boston events when I live so far away. But I think I have a special affinity for residents there since there are always friends of friends who live there, have studied there etc. Anyway, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us.

  3. Amy – love right back at you!
    Charlotte – oh, I love that line. And it’s so true – sometimes the simplest acts, whether for family or community, are the most spiritual actions we can take.

  4. Pete – Coping with work and relationships and family and a two year old is really, really, really tough. I have friends with babies who haven’t quite hit the two year mark and are pregnant again and in my head I’m like “what are you doing? do you not know that two is going to try and KILL you?”

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