Let’s be blunt - This summer's been a real bitch.
A two year engage-a-versary celebrated from across two continents, a parent in need of support with deteriorating symptoms, a good friend who took his life, a great uncle who died of complications, and another good friend my age who died of a sudden heart attack. I have not been well.
One morning in mourning, after getting some deeply upsetting news about the timeline of my partner’s and my fiancée visa application, I decided to go out for a bike ride to clear my head – the sort you come back completely exhausted from. While on the bike path and several miles away in the middle of some poorly covered cell reception, I started getting frantic messages from a friend in Spain that his partner – my best friend from China – had locked herself in the bathroom with a pair of scissors.
I pulled over and did my best to find enough bars to thumb-type some coordination, advice, and updates. She made it to the hospital and came home medicated, but I watched my phone very closely that week. Then at the end, I discovered that she’d made another attempt and that he’d broken up with her and moved out while she was in the hospital.
From her hospital bed, she jokingly asked if I felt like a two-week holiday in Madrid with free lodging.
I tried not to sound too sad as I told her the tickets were not quite in budget.
When I told my partner as much, she – generous saint that she is – offered to pay half my tickets if it would get me there.
I wrestled with the decision. I’m ill at ease with accepting help and my pride fought the offer. Additionally, I wasn’t in a great financial situation with what they call “steady income.” A jolly holiday may not be what the financial planner (if I could afford one) might prescribe. But because I was without a boss checking my punchcard, I was one of the few people who could actually drop everything and go to be with a bestie in her time of need. I looked online and found the tickets cheaper than I’d expected, and in a fit of passion I bought them.
If you were to have asked me what would sooth a sad kitten like me, “spending money I didn’t really have to go help a suicidal friend through a crisis in the middle of several of my own” would not have been my first answer. Yet, 3 days later I was doing just that. At the time I had no idea why I did what I did. I just knew that it felt right.
I saw some beautiful buildings, drank and ate some delicious drinks and eats, and had my first real holiday in well over a year. I also was a shoulder to cry on through some bitterly sad circumstances, pulling myself away to cram schoolwork in around the edges, all wondering what would happen the day after I left. Nevertheless, when I returned to Minnesota I did so with a curious degree of hope, vitality, and focus.
I would mull the strange emotions around in my mind like wine in my mouth. Slowly I began to understand my motivations and what was truly at stake with the visit.
Instead of being the person things happened to, for a moment, I was the person making things happen. For the first time in recent memory I felt like I was an agent of positive change. I remembered what kind of person I was – one who cares about her friends and tries to make their lives better. Suddenly the backpack didn’t seem quite so heavy.
I returned to my essay writing, job applications, budget balancing, and alien American dystopic homeland with a sense that maybe things were still shitty, but that didn’t mean I needed to take it all sitting down. It was possible for the questions “How are things?” and “How are you?” to have very different answers. I became committed to make it so.
Yesterday, I attended a memorial for my friend with a secret heart disease. There was some crying, but mostly it was filled with happy sounds that large numbers of people around food and wine make. Everyone was struck by the suddenness of it, of course, and had unique ways of responding. Many stuck themselves in corners where they wouldn’t need to have too many confronting conversations. But more seemed to relish in the company of friends seen too infrequently.
For the first time in a long time, I was one of the latter – not the former. Though much of my time is spent pursuing my career, the importance of being family to family has exerted itself upon my awareness.
Now I feel the entwining of heart strings and know that if I fell hard, I would not die from it. I look at other friends in pain and know that I'm one of the lucky ones.
One other thing came with the act of buying a ticket. The blinders that I’d had on - zeroing in on the most recent fire to put out - fell away and I remembered that in actuality I am pretty badass.
I’ve gotten through a lot in my life, have done a lot of meaningful things, and have grown immeasurably against sometimes insurmountable odds. I suppose the description is that of the human condition and would remind my beloved reader as much. But I abruptly became aware that I’d seen worse and survived. The rest was time, work, and tears.
Deep in the mud you can only see and grasp at solid ground. But once ashore you can begin to plan your next move. It’s counterintuitive, but a friend in need can provide much firmer support than “playing it safe” because that connection is infinitely more solid than fear.
The risk is the point. Love is the reward, and the fuel to drive us far beyond our pain. Because I love my family, I will be there to the best of my ability. Because I love my partner, I will live the life she’d want me to have. Because I love myself, I will surpass as many limitations as I can. All of that adds up to me gritting my teeth, tearing as I smile, and seizing my fucking day for the sake of me and mine.
It recently was not the case. But today loss makes me want to give, sadness makes me want to be happy, fear makes me want to be brave, and death makes me want to be alive.
Anyone else wanna buy a ticket? – Can’t speak to the destination, but the ride’s amazing.
When have you discovered something in your life worth fighting for?
When have you been reminded of your power?
Who has made your life worth it?