In the final minutes of 2010, I lost four people I knew well. Two were to fatal illnesses who were mourned but also celebrated for having lived productive and long lives.
The other two chose to end their time with earth for reasons not really known. The depth of someone’s despair to see an end as the only solution is something I can and can’t relate to. I can because I often felt similar impulses as a teenage and even twentysomething. I felt that dark spiral of despair that sucks your spirit into vortex. Like a black hole, your emotions turn on you and make you think you really are alone. How did I escape the abyss my younger friends succumbed to? Perhaps a good night’s sleep – most things seem manageable in the morning.
Or maybe because I had a selective memory and could eventually forget the hurts that plagued me in order to push through to the next day. As a new mother, I worried perhaps the past residual emotion would rear its head again. Postpartum depression, the illness that often assuages women after they have given birth, must have similar roots as well. The bleakness of feeling alone is not good for the human spirit since we are so community driven. Luckily, my fears were unwarranted but I keep a close eye and ear on my other friends who are mothers.
The two shocking suicides are why for 2011, my resolution is to take the time to spend it with those who are near and far. Those who are far is obviously much trickier, especially since we live overseas.
But I was able to start the year putting this goal into action with a road trip after New Year’s. I visited friends down the East coast from North Carolina all the way to Florida. Instead of staying in hotels, I uncharacteristically stayed with friends in their homes. The decision was helped by the newborn, now six months old, as he has so much gear, and it’s nice to have an extra pair of hands or those willing to coo at his lips, lashes, and cheeks.
Staying with friends had an interesting effect: there was no start and stop time to our visiting. Unlike a dinner catch up, we were able to talk until midnight, right up until bedtime, which is a rare treat in this electronic age. We weren’t texting each other, or sending packets of information broken up over fiberoptic cable, but looking into each other’s eyes, and responding.
A week of this and I feel so grounded. Not because what we talked about was always happy and fun. Some friends are struggling with infertility, holding my bouncing boy in their wistful arms, and others were wiping away tears as they confessed unacknowledged feelings of being overwhelmed.
“I see you more than my friends who live two hours away,” I heard several times from people. Another friend was reminiscing about how as a child the summers he spent with his grandparents were so special because they often came from overseas to have time together. It turns out that absence does make the heart grow fonder, the conversation richer, the listener dearer, the speaker braver.
People keep asking us when we are moving back home. But the fact that we have to work harder at relationships, and in fact this “work” is now a goal for mindful living and relating to others, means that we have another reason not to rush back.
Here’s to living with intention and making sure that those who are around us know we are there. So they never have to wonder if they are alone.