My friend’s e-mail came in at three the other morning and woke me up. On my phone this is announced by a swooshing sound and, although not too loud, it managed to break into my otherwise tranquil slumber. Let me tell you from experience that people who live in another hemisphere seldom check on the time difference between where they are and Manila.
At any rate, this one didn’t. She was not thinking. Her heart was heavy. Her daughter’s marriage was over.
I struggled to sit up, all the while remembering how happy she was more than 30 years ago when her youngest child met the man of her dreams.
I remember they “lived in” for many years, much to the mother’s dismay, and how elated she was when they finally made it legal.
“Nobody,” my friend had announced, “is as ready for marriage as they are. They know each other so well and have been together for so long.”
She told everyone this was a match made in heaven.
Her e-mail was written in tears and anger. The man, father of her four grandchildren, had found another woman, younger, more successful and perhaps less tired, and just walked out.
I know it is never quite that simple, but yes, it happens. The last line of her message was, “I am heartbroken for my daughter!”
Why do we suffer so deeply when our children are hurt? Why is the pain so real, almost as if it was our own heart breaking?
I guess it’s because, in a manner of speaking, it is.
I was half asleep when the e-mail came and I tried to focus to give an intelligent response. I took a sip of water. I wanted to be consciously in the moment, there to hold her hand, so to speak, across the miles. I clicked reply.
My phone rang. She wanted Facetime. I hate that app. I am never ready. Silly me, I don’t wear makeup to bed. Never have.
Here I was, in the middle of my pillows, brain fuzzy, eyes half shut. I calculated the time. It was a little past 3 a.m. here. It was early afternoon where she was. I clicked accept.
I am glad I did. My friend was in a bad way. She sputtered, her words incoherent, not quite printable. There were tears. I listened. We talked. But at the end of our conversation, we were both laughing.
In spite of the high drama, we had to return to the mundane. She had to do laundry and I needed to get back to sleep.
I couldn’t. I kept thinking about our conversation. Our 45-minute talk had been interrupted, first by the usual niceties and then a couple of health reports and an update on our enormous broods.
We each have six children. She has 16 grandchildren and I have 18. Great grandchildren? Of course we do. I have five and she has three.
After she had said everything she knew about her soon-to-be ex-son-in-law and what he did, she went on to the day her own husband had left. Seamlessly, the conversation became all about her.
We all do that, don’t we? We take the expression “put yourself in my place” too seriously.
An ego thing
Some say sharing your story is an ego thing. Well, maybe a little.
After all, during the storm it all looks pretty dismal and tragic. It is as if the tears will never stop, and life has come to an end. How you survive and win the battle of the blues is nothing short of miraculous, even magical.
Besides, how can you give advice or put in a word of comfort or awaken any hope in a grieving soul unless you have indeed “been there and done that”?
Could a fairy-tale dweller, acquainted only with the “happily ever after,” be credible or speak with any authority? I think not.
Besides, when you are hurting, the last thing you want to hear is how perfect it is for the rest of humanity. You need sympathy. You may even settle for pity. You are desperate for a hand to hold and someone to listen.
But if you happen to be the sounding board like I was on that “wee small hours of the morning” phone call, you may find it timely or even necessary to tell your own story, just to say: “Hey, you are not alone.”
We should not take lightly the opportunity to speak life into someone’s moment of anguish.
A very wise woman talked to me one night many years ago in New York as I debated on whether to stay in the Big Apple or return to Manila. I had felt protected and safe in the hustle of Manhattan. I was insulated by the noise and the busyness of the city. Nothing could hurt me there. Returning to the source of my pain was a daunting prospect.
Her advice: “Don’t go until you are sure your wounds will not bleed again. Don’t go anywhere until you can enter a room with head held high, your steps sure and steady. Go only when you can wear your scars proudly, like a warrior his medals of valor. Look up, and pray!” I came home a year later.
I suddenly wonder: On that sleepless morning, did I discuss me, too? Only a little, I hope.
I used to get maudlin. But over time I have learned that looking back only stops you from looking forward. I no longer dwell in my old soap opera. Some stories do not age well. I have moved. I looked up. I have prayed.
And by God’s grace, the old things have passed away; all things have become new.