The other day, Katie and I were talking about relationships. She told me that she had a friend who has planned out her whole life – when she’s going to meet her husband, when they’ll marry, when she’ll have kids.
I smiled. I remember when I too believed that we each have control of such things.
I told her how, when I’d met her dad, I had warned him early on that I had no intention of getting married for at least five years and kids would not even be a topic of conversation for ten. I then told her how we were engaged in two, married in three and, because I simply couldn’t, wouldn’t, didn’t want to wait, had a child in four — and how life and love and the universe tend to laugh at the best laid plans of mice of men.
And then I gave her some advice. “Some people,” I said, “jump into relationships very quickly. They feel a deep connection with someone and decide that the connection itself is enough to sustain them. And while it sometimes works – I mean, we all hear the stories of the couples who married two weeks after meeting and twenty years later are still happy as clams – far more often it doesn’t.”
I told her what my dad said to me many years ago. “You need to see the seasons change with someone. You need to experience some of life’s ups and downs together, to see how they handle adversity – and how you manage it together as a team. Because life is full of hard stuff. And it’s in those moments – the ones when they’re handling conflict, illness, unemployment, loss – that you see who they really are.”
Over the last couple of days, I’ve found myself ruminating on something else that adversity, in its own twisted way, offers us: a chance not just to see who we (and our partners) are, but which relationships that we’ve built over time can weather our trials.
When Noelle passed away, people stepped up in amazing ways. Old friends came out of the woodwork to support me, my family, and, of course, my dad. And some particularly notable ones, well, didn’t show up at all.
And while it’s hard to swallow in the moment, it’s a gift, really — the knowledge of who you can really count on when it all falls apart and who in your life is there in name only. It’s a chance, as I told my dad at the time, to weed our gardens. To make more room for the people who do show up and who don’t stop showing up. For the ones who ask what they can do and the ones who don’t ask at all but simply do.
It’s a messy, hard, ugly, beautiful process, this. Because while it hurts it soothes and while it stings it surprises and what results is a garden overflowing with love’s tangled shapes and vibrant colors. A refuge. A network of support and concern. A life. A home.
I typed most of this post yesterday from a friend and former client’s office. The moment he heard I was out of work, he suggested that I come by and use his conference room. “There’s wifi,” he said, “and a pantry. It’s all yours.”
I had a meeting in the morning set up by another friend and former client and a lunch with another in the afternoon.
I got a text the other day from a friend simply saying, “What’s the update and what can I do to help?” I got a call from another later letting me know to expect an email from a mutual friend who might have some ideas.
And while some of those people who are bending over backward to help are the ones I’d have expected, many are not. Because while they’d been there all along, they’d been overshadowed by some of those who were there in name only. Those who, when adversity came, disappeared.
Yes, it’s in these moments, the hard ones, when we see who we really are. And in which, so too, we get to sit in the middle of our gardens and wonder at their tangled, messy, vibrant beauty and say to all of those who make them what they are, “Thank you.”