Something Borrowed

Crisis management 101

Wrong Turn

by Stephanie Piper

Passing through a tunnel of personal turmoil and emerging at last into the light, I have come to a new understanding of an old truth:

It is possible to borrow strength from other human beings.

It's a concept I used to reject out of hand, convinced that it meant leaning on others, letting them do your work for you, generally acting whiny and dependent. But what I have discovered is that there are people in the world who actually carry strength with them, like extra water on a long hike, and dispense it with no fanfare whatever. There are people who simply walk beside you and say very little and, by their presence, keep you upright. Sometimes they hold out a hand to steady your step. Sometimes they send you some light, and out of nowhere, in the middle of a bleak and hopeless day, you feel briefly restored.

Three such souls accompanied me during my recent dark passage. They are as different as they can be, three distinct personalities with little in common besides motherhood and strong opinions. If they sat together over lunch, sparks might fly. But the sum total of their accumulated strength became my bulwark. Their practicality, restraint and enormous good sense were the armor that protected me from my worst demons.    

Despite their differences, and with no apparent consultation, they seem to follow the same eight principles of crisis management. Because I aspire to be like these people when I grow up, I have compiled a list. Next time someone I care about is in trouble, I won't have to improvise. Here is what I learned from them about lending strength.  

1. Don't hover. There is a fine line between being there and being there too much. Let it be known that you are on call, and then step back. Sometimes, solitude is a balm.  

2. Don't ask a lot of questions. Most days in the tunnel, I didn't have any answers. My friends made it clear that if I needed information, they would help me find it. Period.   

3. Don't awful-ize. I didn't need anyone to tell me how bad it was, or that they couldn't imagine being me. I didn't need anyone to say â“oh my Godâ” every time I described the latest horrific development. I could take care of that all by myself.

4. Don't minimize. I didn't need anyone to tell me to stop dramatizing, or to count my blessings, or to think of people in worse situations than mine.

5. Show up. When I broke down and asked them to come, they did. Every time.   No hesitation. No long-winded explanation of rearranged schedules. No guilt.

6. Acknowledge human limitations. They reminded me nicely that I was not God. They reminded me that sometimes things fall apart through no fault of our own, and sometimes they stay broken for a while, and sometimes all we can do is step around the pieces until they can be repaired.

7. Discourage hindsight. They reminded me that the past is another country, and that my passport has expired. They reminded me that â“If onlyââ” is no way to begin a sentence.  

8. Foster hope. They talked about the future as though they really believed there would be one. A Fourth of July picnic on a lake. A summer vacation at the beach. A morning when I would wake up without fear. They did not insist that I believe these things. They just talked about them as ordinary, natural events that would eventually occur.

I've told them, of course, that I owe them. I've asked to be allowed to return the favor someday. They shrug and laugh and assure me that it all balances out in the end.   In the economy of the spirit, there are no debits.

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