Today’s entry is inspired by the Blogging for Books contest over at The Zero Boss. This week’s subject is an act of compassion that changed your life.
I had always wanted children. I was the kid who kept babysitting well into high school because I just loved being around little kids; and I was the sitter they all clamored for because I didn’t talk on the phone and read fashion magazines, I played! Once I hit my twenties I became serious about seeking a man who was “mate material” and met my standards for being an excellent prospective father. I found the man who fit the criteria (I thought) and we were married in less than a year after our first date.
We were both in grad school, and knew kids would have to wait a bit. But we were unanimous in our parenting goals: kids, and lots of ’em! The more the merrier! As many as we could afford; the sooner the better. We waited the prudent almost-year after marrying and then threw birth control to the wind. And waited. And waited. And saw doctors. And were told we were young and impatient. And we waited some more. And some more.
And we told no one. Because it was somehow shameful, this. Not being able to get pregnant? At our ages? When we had played by the rules and been fine upstanding members of the church and our community? It didn’t compute. And if we didn’t talk about it, maybe it would go away.
And every month I spent a small fortune on pregnancy tests, and every month my period came and I cried. And we told no one.
And after well over a year, and having become somewhat numb to the entire ritual, I was late. And I tested. And it was positive. And my husband was thrilled, and I was terrified. We talked about it, and decided not to tell anyone until it was confirmed and documented and whatever else it is that doctors do to put a “genuine pregnancy” stamp on things.
So I went to the doctor and she confirmed I was indeed quite pregnant. And we decided to wait just a little bit longer to tell folks; just give it a little bit of time to let it all sink in. So we waited. And life went on. And with each passing day I felt more excitement and less fear, until finally just a couple of weeks before the end of the first trimester we decided it was time to tell the world.
We told our families. And I went to work and sent out a clever little email to my coworkers, inviting them to drop by my office for celebratory cookies. And my husband announced at his dissertation defense to the entire room that we were expecting. We divulged that this was not just any baby, but a long-awaited one, and we wanted to share our joy with everyone. And life was grand.
And far too many of you know how this story goes, I’m sure. I started to spot, we had an ultrasound, and our fears were confirmed. No heartbeat. Arrested development weeks earlier, which—it appeared—my body was refusing to recognize and tend to properly. With the shock still settling in around me, I was scheduled for a D&C, after which I developed a serious uterine infection.
There I was: home from work, living 3,000 miles from most friends and family, getting my first bitter taste of how my husband and I lacked the ability to support one another through a crisis. There was nothing to do but sit around and woulda-coulda-shoulda myself most of the way to insanity (the fever was helpful, there) as I wondered if I had just experienced my one and only pregnancy and would not, in fact, ever be a mother. Clearly my body was broken. I could not get pregnant; I could not stay pregnant. Hell, I couldn’t even recover from a simple procedure like a D&C with a little dignity. A message was being sent to me, loud and clear. It was all so at odds with what I’d always thought to be true, I felt I was on the brink of madness. This, I was sure, was how people lose their minds. There is a level of cognitive dissonance from which one just cannot recover. I spent I don’t know how many days trailing my fingers along that precipice, wondering when I would—inevitably—roll off.
I was saved by a bowl of guacamole.
My friend Andrea—a good and true friend, but a relatively new friend, at that time, from work—came over one afternoon as I lay listless on our sofabed, watching (sort of) television. I hadn’t showered in days. I also hadn’t eaten for several days, which I think my husband may have shared with her when she called prior to her visit. Anyway, Andrea showed up with a grocery bag, came and said hello to me in the living room, and then disappeared into my kitchen to make the biggest bowl of guacamole I’ve ever seen.
Among her many talents, Andrea makes a mean bowl of guacamole. Once it was complete she came and plunked herself down on the fold-out bed with me and asked what we were watching (I don’t remember). She brought the huge bowl of guacamole and an equally huge bag of tortilla chips, and a calming aura of complete and utter acceptance. She didn’t ask me how I was. She didn’t offer platitudes. She didn’t seem ill-at-ease. She didn’t try to cheer me up. And she came bearing one of my most favorite foods in the entire world.
Since that day—years ago—I have met many other amazing humans who have gone way above and beyond the call of duty in my life. What is notable about Andrea and the guacamole is this: Andrea was single, and had no interest in kids. It had been a running joke between us that she utterly failed to understand why in the world I wanted this so much. When the boom fell and I was surrounded by well-meaning people who had Been There and Done That and still had a remarkable ability to say and do the most insensitive things, the person who pulled me from the brink had very little understanding of what I was going through. Maybe that’s what made it easier for her; I don’t know. All she knew was that I was hurting. She knew I was hungry for something I wasn’t getting. And she knew that avocadoes would draw me out of my haze in a way that flowers and cards couldn’t. I don’t know how she knew what to do, but the simplicity of it was incredible.
We ate most of the guacamole, and played cards, and talked about nothing. We did speak, briefly, of my grief. I should say, I spoke and she listened. She heard me. She was with me; nothing more and nothing less. By the time she left, I no longer felt crazy. Sad, yes. Disappointed, angry, confused; of course. Still wounded. But whole.
A great while, two children, and many experiences later, I underwent a training course to become a Stephen Minister. It took me fifty hours of training to learn how to do what Andrea did for me those many years ago: listen, love, and just be there. (It is also worth noting that Andrea is a non-religious person; and as she is a fellow lover of irony I had to add that in.) In Stephen Ministry we are often characterized as “walking along” with a person in need. That is much more difficult for most of us than we realize. Had Andrea not done it for me, back then… well, even assuming I would’ve healed on my own (which I am not, by the way, convinced would’ve been the case), I would not have understood the necessity of this type of care. Now I aspire to it, all because of one bowl of guacamole.