Photo by Aimee Vogelsang / Unsplash

We grow the most when we're in distress, and all too often we miss the invitation

Melissa laughed long and hard. She'd just told me that people considered her a little nuts for being grateful for the big shoulder surgery she had to undergo about this time last year. It was a very painful procedure from which she's still recovering, albeit the worst of it is over.

Melissa's my truth-teller and the kind of friend who reminds me what the word "friend" really means. On this particular topic, she exemplifies what courage looks like.

Unlike me, Melissa doesn't seek the kinds of physical adventures which described what I did from 58 to 70 and hope to return to next year.  She doesn't skydive or ride spicy horses or paraglide, any of that. She did, however, like many of us, have a car accident, and that accident seriously damaged her shoulder. Repairs, like rotator cuff (of which I've now had three) are incredibly painful. If you've had one, you can relate.

Recovery's been bumpy, but as with all such things Melissa's been very Zen about the process. What she's grateful for is what being temporarily down taught her.

Suddenly this strong, confident, capable body worker needed help with all kinds of things. She had to ask for help from her friends and neighbors. She found out quickly who wasn't willing (which hurt, for it was someone close to her) to all the people who were, which was an overwhelming gift.

She discovered how being vulnerable and needing support reinforced community. How giving others the gift of supporting you gave them the gift of knowing they were necessary and needed and above all, appreciated.

In our "I can do it myself" society, an attitude that has colored my own behavior for too damned long, we push help away. Even my beloved long-time mentor Meg, who otherwise taught me how to age well, had problems accepting help. When she refused to use a cane or a walker, she fell, broke a hip and not long thereafter died of pneumonia, as far too many do. She was 92.

I expected, and I suspect Meg expected too, that she would live to 100 or more. While I could be wrong, I think it was Meg's determination to prove that she didn't need a cane or walker which did her in. I share a bit of that with her, but for my part I'm willing to back my ego down and sit the damned thing in a corner for a while.

We NEED help. When we injure, and are suddenly reduced, we can immediately be made far larger when we reach out to those who care about us and to those we didn't even know cared about us for assistance.

If we're proud, like Meg, this is hard. She was an athlete her entire life. She resented being invisible as she aged. She sat on the boards of some of the world's biggest banks, she was incredibly smart and worked right up to her fall. She taught me how to age well but for this one piece: that our greatest strength is what our society deems unacceptable, our vulnerability.

We find grace in such vulnerability. Melissa and I have been discussing my most recent incident, if you will, which was a tumble off my porch steps.  I landed on concrete aggregate, the full body weight on my hip joint. Turns out I had a clean break of the femur neck, which I didn't know until four days later when I finally went to an ER.

While I didn't create a calendar of what I needed help with and send it out as Melissa did, suddenly my neighbors were asking what they could do. Take out the garbage (which would have been great had the hubby not  taken the garbage out for the wrong house), water the plants, buy groceries.

Such kindness can make you weep. However, it was also a reminder that so often I'm happy to offer it to others, but horrified that I might need such assistance myself. Where on earth do we get such notions? Western societal messaging.

People I had only met a few months ago like Alice, my down-the-hill neighbor, were coming by to sprinkle my potted plants in our August heat. My sliding glass door to the patio is now left open because I get to enjoy her delightful company along with Hazel, her chestnut rescue pupper, who has discovered that I am quite happy to have her on my couch getting rubs.

As a society, our intense and often appalling determination to not need anyone for anything AT ALL has made us lonely. Social media has exacerbated that tendency to the extreme. Isolation is a serious health risk for the elderly but no longer limited to the elderly. Now with all the health risks affecting far younger people, those generations are experiencing the kinds of health and mental problems which used to be the primary purview of the old.

That would include colon cancer, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis and stroke, all of which the majority of Americans still assume only happen to the old folks. Not any more. We are swiftly ruining our bodies, minds and hearts far younger, which is causing us to age far more swiftly.

The factors causing this of course are our Western diet of up to 60% ultra- processed food, lack of exercise, drinking, smoking, drugs, loneliness, social media consumption, and the depression which follows when we stop taking care of ourselves.

This is a "rich Western" phenomenon for the most part, albeit there are plenty of sickness and disease in underdeveloped nations where nutrition is scarce. This is not that article. This addresses the Western sickness of societal isolation and independence as opposed to healthy community and interdependence. While developing nations may have issues with nutrition, they are not lacking in the social nutrition of community.

Kenyan Tribal Dance
Photo by John McArthur / Unsplash

Interestingly enough, and you know this if you've traveled, such people are in very important ways far healthier than we are. But I digress.

I have leaned hard into Melissa's example and her wisdom after I moved to Oregon under Covid. The state was in hard lockdown, making socializing very difficult.  Then I entered a period of significant repairs on my body, which made things even more challenging. Yet I found time to invest in people here, which has paid off in ways I simply didn't see coming.

One neighbor schlepped post-op equipment that her now-deceased husband used. That not only made my life vastly easier but also I didn't have to wait until the VA got around to delivering mine. She also bought me a takeout dinner the night I came home from the hospital, saving me time and trouble. That underscored how important it was that for the last year or more, I've been bringing her loaves of sourdough bread from the coast while she was tied to the house with a dying husband.

As I wrote in a post to my Patreon supporters recently, we have to make investments in people. One writer, NancyL, penned this:

Every bit of time we put into other people around us - neighbors especially - will be repaid thousandfold when we need it. And if we never need it, we will go down in all their memories as the crazy nice person up the street who pats all the dogs, arranges to toss the paper to the doormat of the mobility-impaired person, hosts the neighborhood event stuff, and keeps people informed about shit going down that affects them. The more we can give, the more will be there for us to take when we need.  You just have to pivot to be able to accept what others will be happy to give in their turn; it is a manifestation of grace to be able to do this. (author bolded)

In fact, I am that crazy nice person who does many of these things, including for neighbors whose yard signs indicate politics far different from mine. They are still my neighbors and this is still my community.

Melissa's point is that often we only discover how many friends we really have, how much community we've truly built, when we have a terrible accident or are in need. I'm not going to discuss GoFundMes. This is about our intimate community of family, friends and neighbors. My family is long gone, so my "family" is made up of those in whom I invest. That would include my neighbors, friends, and my readers, whose comments I take seriously and whose lives I care about deeply.

That community has also shown up, sending encouragement, ideas, recommendations and the like, all of which I attend and much of which I put to use, share and elevate.

We elevate what we celebrate, and we are what we celebrate.

If we celebrate our sadness and isolation because we're invested in a story from a crappy childhood or the like, then we most assuredly can become that. If we struggle with deserving love, support and community, then we will ensure that we're right about that unworthiness and torpedo potential healthy connections.

We can also change that narrative, as I most assuredly have done, and find out that relationships and community are to be had anywhere. I love conversations with strangers, which have often blossomed into friendships, which have now blossomed into critical support while I recover from hip surgery.

We find out who we are when we are in extremis. My adventure travel stories include tales of breaking my back, smashing my pelvis and the like, and finding my way to safety and care anyway. How the investment in physical training paid off a thousand times over when a trip slid sideways.

When we are in extremis at home from an illness, injury or personal disaster, we discover at every level how the work we have put into community pays off the same way. Even if we haven't, people will often show up for us if we allow them, opening doors to community we didn't believe existed.

Or had pushed away.

Before I hurt my hip, I was buying furniture for my house, which I decided to re-inhabit. I have chairs now for visitors, which I didn't before. I also have a cotton cover on my couch for visitors with puppers, so that their paw prints can be washed off later. I love dogs on my couch and the sound of someone puttering in my yard. The house is now visitor-friendly because I am much more visitor-friendly. My gazebo has three chairs, too.

When we make investments in and make room for community, community shows up.

I'm not crazy to be grateful that I broke my hip or have had a tough year of surgeries. I am however crazy grateful that such events have allowed me to explore my neighborhood in new ways, find new friends and rejoice in the support that exists here and everywhere, if we would but invest in people, allow them to support us, and recognize that our vulnerability is a super-power.

Photo by Amin Moshrefi / Unsplash

The world is full of angels, and those angels include us.

When we need to regrow our wings, a community of kindness can surround us, but we have to allow it.

If it takes a terrible event for us to understand that we are worthy of love, care and support, so be it. That's worth our gratitude.

We're not crazy to be grateful.

We're crazy to be hateful.

Let's stop chasing away all the angels.


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