We all have those friends.
The friends who listen.
The friends who support.
The friends who accept without needing to understand.
I would drop everything and go find them if they asked me to.
I answer their call in the middle of the night and on my day off.
(and that’s saying something)
I text them in wee hours of the morning when tomorrow is just too far away and I’m tired of being alone.
One of these people is my Amy. Currently Amy lives two hours away from me. She didn't always, but she does now. She is first on the list of “safe to call/text/msg when overly inebriated and prone to say things I'll regret later." It is a very short list.
I don’t pretend that what I do changes the world.
Amy changes the world every day.
She’s one of the strongest people I've ever known. Daily she's bent to the point of breaking, slogging thru the flaming hell that humans are capable of inflicting on others. At the end of the day she goes home, sleeps and gets up the next morning, to do it all again.
I know that sometimes life is so overwhelming that the only way to process is to share it.
She can’t share it. She can’t share the horrid details. Even if she could, she doesn't want to burden the people she cares about.
I listen. I listen between the lines.
I don’t need to know why the week was hard.
I just know it was hard, and I give support however I can.
Last week it killed me that I couldn't physically hug her.
(‘cause sometimes (hugs) just doesn't cut it.)
She calls, texts, whatever.
I know that I can’t fathom what she deals with, but it doesn't matter in the least.
She gives selflessly. The least I can do is be a shoulder to lean on, a safe place to be, an escape from the hard.
As with any good relationship, it is not one sided. She's been there this whole time.
Usually by the end of our conversation the supporter has become the supported. We both smiled at some point, and for a brief moment it’s all okay and tomorrow at least has the possibility of being better.
It’s not all the crap that we share. She grins with my joys and I relish her triumphs.
Amy is also a very talented writer, in a completely different style than my own. Despite our different styles we both process our hurts, stresses and joys the same way. We write them out.
She’s seen how it has benefited me to write and edit – distill – my thoughts down to something suitable for public consumption. But she’s not ready yet to commit to writing routinely, she’d like to see if the format works for her. She asked if I would be willing to let her guest post here once in a while.
Obviously, I said yes, but I do not say it lightly or easily...in general I don't like sharing personal things, and this space is very much my space. But, she is one of the three I would say yes to.
So, she’ll be posting here occasionally, starting tonight.
When I asked Kristin if I could guest post here, I knew instinctively that she would say yes. For that I am immensely grateful, not only for her willingness to share this space with me but for the grace that comes with having a friend who knows me well enough to understand why I’m asking without needing an explanation. That is a rarity.
My world is expanding rapidly these days. With a second niece or nephew on the horizon, the classes I am chomping my way through on the way to a new career, and some friendships that have unexpectedly flourished, I am consistently surprised. I am learning to speak up for myself more, learning to make chances when they don’t appear, and learning to be grateful for what I have. And oh, do I have so much. So much. It is astounding. When Ramona (first niece) rolls over in her sleep, snuggles up to me, and places a hand on my arm just to make sure I’m still there, it’s kind of like the sky explodes.
I had no idea I could love another person so much.
When she pillows her head on my shoulder during a walk, when she asks to read the story I wrote for her, when she wants to dance in my arms—were there nothing else but the page and her, I would be content. And there are so many other joys in my life.
I have also been knocked over repeatedly by these sneaker waves of terribly reality in my job. I wish I could talk about them in detail, I really do. But I can’t. Suffice it to say that sometimes parents do horrific things to their children. More often than I would have ever imagined; more often than I ever want anyone I love to know about.
There are bruises and scars.
There are kids who never get the chance to be kids, who cover for their parents, who are raising their siblings before they themselves are grown.
There are abandoned kids.
There are suicidal kids.
There are kids who have emotional and psychological wounds that will never fully heal.
There are the kids we lose.
We had one of those recently, and there are no words for it, not really. I, who considers herself to be above all a wordsmith, cannot find the right ones. I am left trailing behind this loss with the stark realization that that hunt will forever be fruitless.
I got into this line of work because I wanted to make the world a better place. How cliché. But it’s true. That’s why any of us in my job got into it. There’s no glory in it. It’s dirty and raw and violent. The hours are long, the pay is low, and you never quite feel safe.
I have learned through the hardest of lessons that sometimes I have to settle for making the world better by simply showing up.
Those are the hardest of days.
When I am being screamed at, or attacked in court, or consoling a devastated toddler, I am still actively working at it, digging my heels in and doing my best to change the flow of the world. But the days when I simply have to accept that I will do no good beyond standing up, those are the days when I am most disappointed.
It is in the bigness of the challenge where I find the best lessons. That’s what it’s all about, right? I mean, in the end I won’t be able to help these kids at all if I can’t see where it could be better and go to that place, go and do it better. These ‘Calvin’s dad’ lessons, as my brother calls them, can’t be overlooked. They cannot go unrealized.
It is in the bigness of the challenge where I find the utter desperation. There will most likely never be a time when I hurt for a job in the child welfare field. How devastating that realization was! My hope, nonetheless, is that we will whittle away, little by little, at the generations of dysfunction and abuse, until one day the caseloads will be empty and the reports won’t come in.
I will hope forever, knowing that I will always be just a little disappointed.
Lately I have begun to embrace the Buddhist principle of the boddhi satva. While I am not religious in the slightest, I am learning that comfort is found in the most unexpected of places; if I want to continue this work I have to make peace with the things people do to each other and with my role in this system.
So, the boddhi satva?
At the most crude of levels, which is really where my understanding lies, a boddhi satva is one who has a desire to free sentient beings from the continuing cycle of death, rebirth, and suffering, someone who is there with others in their pain, someone who delays their own enlightenment to do so.
I’m not big on enlightenment. I mean, that’s probably not gonna happen in my lifetime.
For me, I have distilled this notion down to mean someone who is simply present with another person when they are in pain. When they are hurting. When they are dying. In witnessing another’s grief and suffering, in being there, perhaps I can mitigate just a bit of their burden.
Perhaps, even more valuable, I can take a bit of it onto my own shoulders. On those days when I have to accept that the only thing I could possibly do to help is to just show up, I try to remember that in the vein of the boddhi satva, sometimes that is in fact enough.
Someone has to actively note the pain that these kids and families are in. Someone has to bear witness.
In my job, daily, I am surrounded by people who embody this role, this boddhi satva; I am doing my best to follow their example.
Nothing more, nothing less.
So today, like every day, I will get up.
I will shower, brush my teeth, and put on my warrior clothes.
I will wear who I am like armor.
I will walk through the doors.
I will have the hard conversations, make the hard decisions, and continue to fake it until I make it.
I will work to my limits and sometimes beyond.
I will hug Ramona and sing and run and find sunshine.
Maybe I will cry.
I will wrestle with the angels.
I will wrestle with the demons.
I will emerge on the other side, every day.
I will have no shame.