March 2012 Archives

now you see it, now you don't

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One of the best things about my office is that it's next door to Weez's--which enables lots of shared music, knocking on walls, and other neighborly things.

A few years ago, we were both in our offices at the same time when a foreign student stopped by to talk to us about classes. He looked in my office, which was brightly lit, and piled high with papers and books and gadgets--the regular clutter of my chaotic professional life. Then he looked in Weez's office, which features incandescent lighting, strategically placed art, and a calming sense of feng shui.

He stood there for a few moments, clearly trying to find the right words for what he was thinking. Finally, haltingly, he said "You two are...friends?" Weez and I both nodded. There was a long pause, and then, "You are...VERY different." We laughed for a long time about that, and it's a line that's been repeated many times between us. A few months ago, our mutual friend Matt said to me "None of us really understand how the two of you are still friends," and when I reported that to Weez yesterday it resulted in more shared laughter.

On the other hand, when I shared both of those conversations with another friend, David, on Thursday, he shrugged and said he didn't think we were really all that different. And Alex, who was there when I shared Matt's comment with Weez yesterday, also expressed bewilderment at that observation.

On the surface, Weez and I are indeed very different. We have different aesthetics, different communication styles, different (but overlapping) sets of friends. And a lot of people focus on that--especially the communication styles. I'm an open book, for the most part--you don't ever have to wonder where you stand with me. And while I can be quick to anger, it's because I let negative emotions bubble up and out, and then I let them go. Weez, on the other hand, is gentler, more nurturing to an extended network of friends and students and colleagues, a mostly closed book when it comes to inner feelings, and very slow to anger...but just as slow to let that anger go.

These are not good things or bad things...they're just true things. And focusing on that can result i people seeing us as dramatically different. But David and Alex weren't focusing on that. They were thinking about the many things that Weez and I share. A fierce loyalty to the people we care about. A sophisticated and often wicked sense of humor. A love of music and food and friends and family. A collection of outspoken and often troublesome monkeys in our heads. A joy in teaching and in learning, in making and in playing.

So yes, we are very different. And also not so much. The similarities are what define our friendship...but I'm grateful for the balance she provides in my life, the reminder that a well-lived life takes many forms and that the best friendships are not just mirrors.

it ain't but a thang

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"It ain't but a thang" is how Weez, my BFF, explains away pretty much any catastrophic occurrence, from car accidents to student stalkers. It used to make me crazy, because I was pretty sure a lot of those were more than just "a thang," but over the years I've learned that's a core part of who she is. It's a family thang, really. And it's not just a minimization of the problem, which is what I used to think. It's a genuine, (mostly) healthy recognition that in the larger scheme of things, this too shall pass. (My dad says that all the time. Isn't it funny how parents seem to get smarter as you age?)

On Tuesday, Weez had a stroke. Granted, it was what she--and the neurologist--called a "teensy stroke." It affected only her balance, no cognitive function or other physical aspects. Her smile is still beautifully symmetrical, her words and her wit are as sharp as ever, and even the balance issues are likely to resolve fairly quickly.

But still. It was more than just a thang, at least to me. It was a terrifying reminder of our mortality, of the value and the fragility of our well-being, of just how important a person she is in my life. The first two I'm pretty aware of on a day-to-day basis. In a general way, I'm aware of mortality, and fragility, and am very grateful for the good health that I and my loved ones enjoy. In a more specific way, however, I don't ever think about what a world without Weez in it would be like. I don't want to go there. I'm not sure I really can go there. It's not a viable option. It does not compute.

On Tuesday, when Weez emailed several of us to say that she wouldn't make our 11am meeting because she was in the hospital, to her, that was "just a thang." She'd let us know, and that was that. My first reaction was to do what I would have wanted someone else to do for me--drop everything, head to the hospital, and keep her company. But I've known her long enough to know that company isn't always what she wants. So I asked, and she said no. And I respected that. (Damn, Weez, do you know how HARD that was?) I held out 'til morning, then showed up with gifts and good cheer...and an appointment that would keep me from hovering over her for the rest of the day. That was good, on all fronts. I came back later, again just for an hour or two, and tried as best I could to sit quietly and just be there. And again this morning, with another chai soy latte and some light conversation about happy things.

We talked a bit about how much people like me (and many of our colleagues and friends) WANT to do something to help in a crisis. How it makes THEM feel better. But, as she pointed out, that's really not her top priority when she's trying to keep her own shit together...a very fair point. On the other hand, she also has said several times how wonderful it has been to see the outpouring of love and support that's come through email and Facebook and people who risked her barriers to stop in at the hospital.

It got me thinking about this whole offering/accepting help thing. Because it's not really an introvert/extrovert thang. It's a caretaker thang. When you derive some of your own self-worth from taking care of others--as a mother, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend, as a mentor--it feels good and right to help the people you care about. It's a lot harder to accept that help. There's a skewing of perspective; offering the help seems simple and easy, but accepting help offered seems demanding and excessive.

Last year was a hard year for me, and it had some crises that were most certainly more than just a thang. And the people who loved me were there for me. Really there. Even (especially) when I didn't ask, couldn't ask. A few months ago, I told one of them how grateful I was for his help during those dark times, and he said dismissively "it wasn't a big deal." I disagreed, and said that it was indeed a very big deal for me. He laughed then and said "but you did the same thing for me when I needed it." And I suddenly realized that he was right; I had done that for him, and it hadn't felt like a big deal...to me. It's all about perspective. That's a lesson I need to hold tight to, remembering that while offering help is easy, accepting it can be much, much harder.

I love you, Weez. I'm so very grateful you're okay. And I'm so very glad I could offer help this week, even if some of it was to make me feel better.

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