Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Voice of Experience

Today, I got a rare chance to catch up with a friend who has had a tough time of things over the last couple of years. She started down a career path she had worked long and hard to pursue, only to find out it didn't lead where she hoped. Then, after going to see her doctor for a run-of-the-mill appointment, she received an unexpected diagnosis of MS. Finally, in September, while headed on a road trip with her husband to visit family in another state, he told her that he did not want to be married anymore; they were still virtually newlyweds, and she never saw that coming.

My friend is brave and strong and beautiful, and just four months after this painful crisis, already she has picked herself up and started fresh with grace that I deeply admire. I know she had moments of despair along the way, and that she still cycles through many emotions, but she simply refuses to linger in heartbreak. When I admired this about her, she told me that I had helped her. Me? What did I do? I haven't called enough and this is the first time I've seen her; I barely have enough coping skills to keep myself afloat most days, as you well know! So it surprises and deeply gratifies me that I could be of any help to anyone else.

My friend she said that when she first told me a couple of months ago about the split, I didn't do what so many others had done. I didn't say, "This will make you stronger." Instead, I said, with the voice of some experience in the breakup department, "Friend, this is awful right now, but I want you to know that later new opportunities will arise in your life that would not be there had you not gone through this right now. They won't erase the bad, but they will bring new good things, surprises that you will cherish, and that you otherwise would never have experienced." Then my strong friend told me that she really has no desire to get any stronger, thank you very much, so sometimes she feels angry at first when people tell her about all that strength she'll gain from her divorce. (She knows that they mean well.) But, she said, what I had told her about new opportunities in her life ahead gave her something she could "latch on to," and that gave her a sense of hope and purpose. Right now she's wisely focusing on her new and successful career, taking some time to travel and adventure, and being good to herself. We both look forward to getting together in the near future when we can celebrate some of the unexpected goodness sure to come her way.

I can't adequately describe how much it means to me that what I told my friend played any small part in helping her. The beautiful thing, though, is that she listened, that she heard it, that she had the strength to use it in the way that she needed.

I believe in what I told my friend. It took me years to figure it out after my breakup, although probably people tried to tell me earlier and I just couldn't hear them. And almost two years into Rooster's autism diagnosis, I still can't always carry the lesson over to realize that our family's journey, too, brings its own opportunities and joys if I am open to them.

I want to be more like my young friend. I want to be a better listener. I want to grab hope and purpose whenever it is offered -- even from my own mouth.


jess said...

Sometimes all we need is for someone to acknowledge and honor our pain. The platitudes get toxic after a while.

She's very lucky to have you.

shelley said...

I love you. You are overflowing with kindness and thoughtfulness and I thank you for sharing your heart with me. Try and remember to listen to your own heart. All that you need in life is inside of you already. Just remember to listen.