Try and be decent to each other.
You can’t run on gratitude alone. I knew this already, but I’m learning it again. All the heartfelt thanks in the world are not going to make up for the lost sleep, poor food choices, and exhaustion.
It feels good to receive heartfelt thanks. Then it gets awkward, watching a tear of gratitude trickle down someone’s cheek. They’d rather not be crying, you’d really rather they didn’t. Neither of you wanted to be in this position in the first place, they didn’t really want you to bring them dinner, they’d rather have their home, their own kitchen, their own dishes.
Sometimes they want to share their experience with you. You’re told stories that sound like apocalyptic Hollywood plots: fireballs racing down the street as you want the children. People make confessions of guilt over the beta fish who was left behind, I grabbed the baby, but the smoke was too thick to grab the fish. What do you say to that? I’m glad you grabbed the baby, sorry about the fish.
You don’t really know what to say. Taking a meal to a family that has lost everything is very different than taking a meal to a family with a new baby. With the new baby, it is usually a joyous (if somewhat exhausting) occasion. With the loss of all worldly possessions, there is the uncomfortable moment when you have to go home, because you still have a place to go home to.
So home you go, feeling somewhat guilty that your house wasn’t destroyed. Survivor’s guilt is a real thing. It sits with you uncomfortably. Why was your town spared the devastation? You have an overwhelming desire to punch anyone who suggests it was karma, or worse, the Christian Science equivalent, of not doing their prayerful work, as if enough aligning one’s thought with God, would make a difference. Hundreds of acres were destroyed, why didn’t the wind blow your way? You’re not a better person than they are, nor are you any worse, seriously, who makes these judgment calls anyway? Sure, everything was covered in an inconvenient layer of thick ash, but it is just that, inconvenient (and toxic), but you still have a place to live.
The entire exchange is awkward, but at the end of the day, you’re in a position to help, so you do. It is okay to receive help. It is okay to provide help. It is okay to take care of yourself, because if you don’t help yourself, you won’t be in a position to help anyone else. I need this taped on my fridge in foot high letters, TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF, otherwise you are USELESS to others.
Lesson clearly still not learned.
Another week, another meal train. More meals made for a family that is not my own. Another night of pasta and whatever vegetables we happen to have in the fridge for dinner so someone else can have a freshly made pot roast and veggies or baked ziti and a salad. Brownies for dessert, something chocolate is a must at times like these. Another bag of quick snacks and not-super-perishable goods put together in a reusable grocery bag that I don’t intend to get back, and a new box of super-soft kleenex, don’t forget the kleenex.
Kleenex are important, almost as important as the brownies. There will be tears. Plenty of tears. Theirs of gratitude, yours ugly-crying in the car later, after you’ve dropped off the meal. Tears of exhaustion, mental, physical, emotional. Acknowledging that there is so much more to do, and you can’t do it all, and you feel helpless, and slightly ill.
People asking how you’re doing, you’re doing ok, you still have a house. You’re not really okay though. When your phone pings from the police/sheriff updates your heart skips a beat. Your heart as skipped quite a few beats in the last few weeks. First the evacuation orders pinged out, then more, finally some re-entry updates, and then at long last, “this street will be blocked off for Halloween” notification. Doesn’t matter, the conditioned response is the same: panic, disaster, are we next?
There is more to do. There is always more to do. “Can you set up another meal train?” It isn’t really a question. It is coming from someone else who is also over-taxed and carefully balancing the emotional needs of many, including themselves. “You’ve done such a good job with the others, thank you, I really appreciate it.” So you set one up, and then start to feel guilt when no one signs up for food in the first week, or the second… The family needs support. So you make another meal (or two, or three) and email around the link again, reminding people: this family needs dinner!
People need dinner. They need nourishment. They need support. People don’t need anymore stuff. The stuff sits in boxes and bags around their tiny temporary living quarters. This isn’t where they’re going to stay for more than a few weeks, at most, if they’re lucky. They don’t want to get too comfortable, just comfortable enough. Besides, they may have to leave in a hurry, again.
You see the stuff outside, piled under a tarp, scattered and somewhat exposed to the elements. Piles of good intentions. You feel overwhelmed on their behalf. If there was something more you could do to help, but what? You can’t fight everyone’s battles for them.
You want to help, but not overwhelm. You want to help, but you also realize the only reason you know them so well now is because you’ve been asked to assist them, and under every day circumstances you’d likely never exchange more than a polite “hello” or a brief conversation about the weather.
Is this karma or serendipity? Were our lives fated to be intertwined for a few brief weeks so I could help them through a tragedy, or is this merely happy happenstance that we both participate in a community that cares deeply for one another? I prefer serendipity. To suggest that this tragedy was somehow fate is too horrible for words.
Then there are all the other things, life does not stand still for tragedy, it goes on. There are birthday parties to attend, field trips to chaperone, work obligations to fulfuill, home repairs to make, events to coordinate, meetings to attend, another email to reply to, a text from the outside world intruding, someone who is wondering why I haven’t done some unimportant thing in a timely manner and I just want to scream at them, and in the midst of all that, there are still children who need love and support.
Things are far from returning to normal. My husband is out for work and will not be home until well past the children’s bedtime. The little one is anxious: “is Daddy somewhere safe?” He persists until he and Daddy can exchange selfies. Daddy is safe, or as safe as he can be in a car driving on a highway, but I don’t tell the little one that. Later, after the little one is in bed, I check my phone, he is still safe.
The little one has lingering anxiety issues from our evacuation talks. Several friends from the play yard at school lost everything. I’ve done a lot of reassuring and a lot of snuggling. I would not leave you at school if I didn’t feel it was safe. If it was unsafe, school would be closed. If something happened to make it unsafe, your teachers would do their best to make sure you’re OK. For Real. Thankfully the little one is sleeping through the night. I’m still waking up some nights, drenched in sweat, wide awake. There is the hum of the ceiling fan and sometimes some light snoring from my husband.
We are safe. I have done enough. I am doing to do more, but first I have to go grocery shopping, again.
I’m thankful to live in a community that, when you have to make a phone call saying “This family has been displaced, and lost everything to the horrific natural disaster” the immediate reply is “What can I do to help?” Once the needs were known, people followed up with concrete action: bringing meals, helping to arrange alternative housing, gift cards, donations of clothing, toys, money, and household items.
The practical response of the community is so different from what I experienced during my time in Christian Science. If a someone lost their home to a natural disaster, they clearly hadn’t done their protective prayerful work. If their home survived, then clearly they were more spiritually minded than those who had lost everything. As if somehow, it was their thought influencing the hurricane, wildfire or tornado that devastated the area.
The area where we live was recently devastated by a series of horrific natural disasters. I didn’t sleep for a week as evacuation orders pinged on my phone, and I tried to wrap my head around what was unfolding around me, and I was in a safe area. I have friends who lost everything, their homes, businesses, and cars.
I was tasked with helping the teacher call families, to check in and see how people were doing, where people were going, and to see how the community could help. Together we tracked down all the families on the list, checking in to see where they were, what they needed, and how we could help. The community came together to help.
At the end of the first week I was exhausted, physically, mentally and emotionally, but I kept going. I still had a house, I was okay, I was in a position to help. Then, I got an email for yet another meal train, and replied “I’d love to sign up for something, but I need to get groceries first!” the woman organizing the meal train emailed back, “don’t worry about it, you’ve done enough!”
“You’ve done enough!”
I cried. In the Christian Science culture you can never do enough. There is always room to strive for a better understanding of Christian Science. If you correct your thought enough, you can change the world and move mountains. You can’t acknowledge you’re exhausted, that is giving power to error. I was still standing, I still had a home, surely I could do something more to help.
Then someone else told me that I had “done enough” and I needed to “take a break.” This time it was a woman housing people who had lost everything, and organizing baking for a first responder’s breakfast (among so many other things). I had just dropped off six dozen muffins, and was apologizing for not having made more. “It is fine, you’ve done enough.”
I’m coming to terms with what “done enough” means. For me, for now, it means I am stepping back and taking care of myself and my family, working on reestablishing routines and a new sense of normal. Our area will be in recovery mode for years, there are be plenty more opportunities to help.
I remind myself, I’m not the only one out there helping, the community outpouring of support has been amazing, and I can’t help others if I am too exhausted to help myself.
image via wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_disaster
The other night Kid2 wanted to read the story of Noah’s Ark. We have an older children’s copy probably first published sometime in the 70s. It was my husbands when he was a child, and as great flood stories are common in many cultures, I figured why not.
I did my best to read in a non-judgmental tone. Paraphrasing here, as book is back on the bookshelf and really, we all know the story, if you need a refresher, you can find it in the Bible, Genesis 5:32-10:1.
Noah and his wife live together with their children, and one day God tells Noah to build an ark. So Noah goes about building an ark, and collects two of each kind of animal for the ark.
So far, so good. Although Kid2 notes “thats a lot of animals.” Yes, yes it is.
Then God gets angry and sends a lot of rain and floods the world and kills everyone — except Noah and his family.
Kid2’s eyes got big. “That God is mean.”
I can’t say I disagree, after all “That God” just finished drowning (almost) all the the inhabitants of the earth simply because “they angered him.”
So Kid2 and I brainstormed better ways of dealing with people who anger you, then we worked our way to the end of the book.
God shows Noah a rainbow and promises not to kill all the humans again.
Kid2 does not think a rainbow makes up for mass drowning, and wanted to be assured it was “just a story.”
Yes, Kid2, it is just a story.
- Kid2 is the same one who has decided that soon his classmates will know Santa is not real, and knows there are zero gods.
- art via Wikipedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Noah%27s_Ark_on_Mount_Ararat_by_Simon_de_Myle.jpg
My eldest child’s teacher sends weekly emails to the class to keep us up-to-date on what is going on in the classroom. The most recent email included a section headed “What to do if your child hears that others don’t believe in Santa” as the class is learning the story of St. Nicolas (a very real man) and there has been talk of Santa.
What to do if your child hears that others don’t believe in Santa?If your child has older siblings he or she might hear them say that they don’t believe in Santa anymore. Then your child comes to you and asks you if Santa is real. What can you do?First of all, have a talk with your older child. Remind them of when they were young and how Santa was real for them. Ask them to be the “keeper of the magic” and not discount the imagination of the younger child….
Secondly, this is a teaching moment for tolerance. When your young one tells you that his or her friend said that there is no Santa you can share how people believe in different things and celebrate holidays in different ways. Share that “in our family we…. believe in Santa but in other families they may not and that is okay…. This phrase…”in our family we…” will become your mantra in the years to come. So many things come up where families do things in different ways. We can’t change others. We must show tolerance of other people’s believes and journeys but still hold on to what we want for our own family.
This morning in the car I brought up Santa – how some children believe in him, and how in our family we know Santa is a story. The children were in full agreement – we’ve never really pushed the Santa myth, one of the grandmothers tried briefly, but it never really stuck. Silly grandma, Santa is a story.
In the car this afternoon the little one piped up:
Kid2: Everyone in my class believes in Santa, except me. I know Santa’s not real.
Me: Did you tell your friends Santa is not real?
Kid2: No. They all believe in Santa.
Kid2 then got quiet, and didn’t say much more.
I decided to use some of the teacher’s suggested language. Me: It is okay for them to believe in Santa, people believe a lot of different things, and … at this point Kid2 interrupted me, and in a super-sweet kindergarten voice, informed me:
Kid2: Soon they’ll know Santa’s not real.
I’m not sure what to say to that. I think we may have to have a conversation with the teacher.
Our school recently celebrated Martinmas. As darkness fell, we gathered in the cozy classroom and were told the story of Martin, a young Roman conscript who gave half of his warm cloak to a beggar on the side of the road. Later that night Martin had a dream (vision?), an angel was wearing half of Martin’s cloak, and it told Martin that it had been the beggar on the road – Martin went on to convert to Christianity, but that part was left out of the story. The focus was on Martin’s kind heart, and willingness to share what he had with someone less fortunate than himself.
There was a mood of reverence as we walked from the classroom with our lanterns. In the dark, with only the quiet singing of the children, I contemplated the story. Martin did not give the beggar his entire cloak, he gave him half of it, this was not a story of total self-sacrifice, but of sharing what he could. Would Martin be cold with only half a cloak? Certainly, but the beggar would be warmer with half than if he had none at all.
The Martinmas Festival marks the middle point between Michaelmas and Christmas, the light of Martinmas fortifies the soul for the dark winter. I’m not feeling a lot of light right now, the darkness feels pretty overwhelming.
I have been struggling this past week with the election results. I feel both compelled to speak out, and compelled to withdraw and protect my family. I have been saddened by the news of attacks on people based on who they may or may not have voted for, their gender, the color of their skin, or their religious views.
As a former Christian Scientist, it would be easy to revert back to my old ways, to “only see the good” and to “know all is harmonious.” That is not how things work. The question, could I be doing more haunts me. I know the answer is yes, but I’m not sure what “doing more” looks like right now.
More on St. Martin & the Martinmas Festival
- Martin of Tours (wikipedia)
- St. Martin’s Day (wikipedia)
- Saint Martin (Waldorf Festivals)
- Catholic Saints – St. Martin
Image via https://www.pinterest.com/taoofcraft/waldorf-lanterns-martinmas/