"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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