I have a new appreciation for the periphery, the outer edges of life. For several years I know many of my friends and family felt like they lived on the perimeter of my life. The updates and notifications of my life came through snapshots and sound bites on the Internet. And for the most part those snapshots and sound bites looked and sounded really good. We, my husband and I, made a hard season look really good, fancy even.
About a year ago I tried writing about this subject. I titled the piece “Radio Silence” and 157 words in I stopped. I’m not really sure why at the time I stopped writing the piece. But I now believe I probably stopped short at 157 words because I wasn’t over sting of the accusations that I had been quiet and that I hadn’t asked for help. Today, I have a year’s worth of experiences that have softened sting and I have lived on the perimeter of some of my friends’ hardest life moments.
From the outside looking in here’s what I have begun to see: When a friend or family is in crisis, a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger, only the life rafts closest to family help them to safety. Physically closest. The life raft actually nearest the family is the one that is going to be used, whether it be the neighbor next door or the friend with flexible work hours, close physical proximity matters most.
During our tour in CT/NYC my family had a series of small crises imbedded in the mess that was our everyday life. A week before Christmas 2014, I awoke in the middle of the night with stomach pain. Nearly doubled over I managed to make my way down 2 flights stairs to where our stomach remedies were. I used them and lay on the couch awaiting relief. After 30 or so minutes the pain had not subsided, so on my hands and knees I crawled back up the 2 flights of stairs to where my husband lay sleeping. I woke him and let know I was in pain, a lot of pain. He awoke dazed and confused, but thankfully all that military training paid off and he shifted into “make-it-happen” mode quickly. He texted our next door neighbor, knowing he was a night owl, to ask if he could come sleep on our couch so an adult was in the house with our boys. Our neighbor arrived pillow in hand a few minutes later and we left for the hospital.
Over the next 6 hours I was poked, prodded, and scanned. By nine AM I was being prepped for an emergency appendectomy, our neighbor was making oatmeal, pouring juice, and finding the Disney channel for our 2 preschoolers, and my husband was coordinating with our pastor’s wife for further care for our boys.
During my surgery my husband dashed home to pack the boys up for a day and an overnight stay at the preacher’s house. They planned a day of Christmas crafts and baking and an evening of movies and sleepovers to keep our boys entertained and unafraid of having a mommy in the hospital.
As the immediate need of health care and childcare subsided, more people began to play a role in my healing and my family’s well being. My sister was able to put my mom on a plane to come up and stay with us as I healed. My MOPS group started a meal train and brought meals to my house every other day for a couple of weeks. Friends from Al-Anon and church stopped by with food and to hang out and chat for a bit. It took a village, villages actually spanning from Connecticut to Virginia to Oregon, but in those first few hours of crisis where there were so many unknowns, it was the people literally closest to us that became the life rafts we clung to.
In this physical crisis it’s easy to see why proximity mattered so much. There was a definite immediacy to our need, one that could only be filled by people closest to us, physically. It’s in the unseen crises, crises of the soul and mind, that it is harder to see why people who are not right in front of you, people on the periphery, are not the ones who get the proverbial 911 calls.
Even with all the advances in technology and the availability of multiple streams of communication, there is nothing like a flesh and blood human sitting next to you, when you’re having a hard time. A thousand texts, phone calls, or emails can’t contend with the ability to see the look on a friend’s face as you share tough news or her ability to offer a hug in a tender moment.
I know this to be true, because that’s how it was for me. I made fast friends because of my need to share my emotional and spiritual struggles with someone I could touch. I wasn’t silent during my time of need, far from it, it was just that the periphery was often too far away. It took way too much energy to explain a situation to someone I couldn’t see, and there was only so much energy to go around. If a picture is worth a thousand words, walking with someone in their daily life is worth a million.
My new appreciation for being on the periphery of friends’ lives comes from learning about hardships several of my friends have experienced lately. While I may not have been the last to know, I wasn’t the first. I live miles and in some cases many, many miles away from my friends who are in a season of struggle. It’s a humbling experience, especially for someone like me who likes to be the life raft. I have a tendency toward thinking I know how to fix whatever is happening and I’m quite good in crisis, so why wasn’t I first? The answer, I wasn’t the nearest. And I’m learning that it is okay. I can be of service when I am asked, even if that is long after the initial pain. My job as a friend is to be a life raft when my friend needs it, not when I deem it necessary.
As I walk the perimeters and have glimpses into the mess of the lives of the people I love, I hope that I remember. I hope that I remember that I can be of service at any time and maybe it just isn’t my time yet, and that’s ok.