Over coffee the other day a long-time friend looked straight into my eyes – how are you – she asked. I immediately felt a flutter of discomfort in my chest. She’s not one that would settle with my noncommittal “all is well” or “I’m good thanks” followed by a well executed pivot back to her. She’s intuitive and unafraid of intimacy. I was stuck. I couldn’t find an answer to her gentle query.
I responded as so many of us do. I gave her an update and timetable of daily activities. I wished I could answer “I’m feeling deeply content, full of gratitude and excited with my full and abundant life”. Except that wouldn’t be honest. She was a soul mate who also wouldn’t accept my litany of busyness as proof of my wellbeing. I then told her that I felt I was a bystander in my life, perhaps coasting. We agreed that I’m not one to take my feet off the pedals. The emotional peaks and valleys of living a connected and engaged life are my oxygen. While I strive to smooth the edges, round out the tops and soften the bottoms, without them I am untethered.
It seems to me that as I am shifting my energy to personal pursuits, physical activities, and stretches of time that I’m supposed to relish and sink into as well deserved, I am doing audits. Of myself, my relationships, my time and energy utilization, and my heart and soul. It’s exhausting, reeks of judgement, and critical to finding my place and peace. It’s how I re-attach.
Loretta LaRoche, in her book Life is Short, Wear Your Party Pants, preaches that we should stop “shoulding” all over ourselves. I am reminded of the warning as I critique and measure my physical and emotional investments. I crave connection – will I achieve it through being generous? Will I find it through the generousity of others? For a long time I have been confused by the dynamics and outcomes of acts of giving.
I now see that people provide offerings in different ways. Tactical generousity is socially acceptable, tangible and visible. It’s the gift of a new scarf for a birthday, scented candle for the host, or a gift card to a favourite shop. It’s easily validated by both the giver and receiver. At a deeper level, it’s the love language of acts of service – making tea, warming up the car on a cold morning, shining scuffed boots.
Emotional generousity is private. It’s a presence and sharing of time and energy that is unseeable. It is felt rather than unwrapped. It may be subtle at the time, however the impact and memory often lasts forever.
A few years ago I spent a prolonged period in the hospital. In a haze of pain medication and an endless continuum of days and nights I have a clear recollection of opening my eyes to friend sitting beside me reading a book. Her silent presence gave me a sense of warmth and comfort as I drifted in and out of awareness.
I have a few faded and only two precise memories of my mother’s funeral. I don’t remember what I wore, what colour the room was, or what I said about a woman who was remarkable to only the few in attendance who knew her and loved her. Instead, I have an emotional reminiscence of the absence of my mother’s best friend. A woman I loved and needed to hold me and remind me of who my mother was before the assault of dementia. Before she lost her mind, and I lost her. I mourned the lack of comfort, understanding and history that would give me a connection back to my mother’s essence. Without it we buried my mother’s skin and bones turned to ashes in an urn in the ground beside my father.
Also, that day there were two friends whose attendance shifted my perception of friendship and generousity. One sprinted up the stairs to the reception while on a drive-by with her son in the car on the way to his tutor. I have no recollection of what she said to me. The other managed to sneak away from a business meeting long enough to be seen. In hindsight, it was consistent with the unravelling of a friendship. That day taught me much about grief. It also reminded me that humans have priorities and limitations – unrelated to my needs.
There’s a difference between “showing up” and “being there”. There is a difference between gift giving and sharing time and space. Connection through generousity is never forgotten.
That’s the truth.