Eight years ago I was in an ambulance flying down the road as my husband was dying in the back. I can still hear the EMT saying, “Charging. Clear! (Thump). Nope. Let’s go again. Charging. Clear! (Thump). Come on, Stephen!” I am grateful for that EMT who didn’t give up and brought the love of my life back to me.
After leaving the hospital we came home to neighbor after neighbor bringing over casseroles, pies, cookies, Jell-O salads, and homemade 29 grain gluten free “bread” (there’s a GF freak in every neighborhood). Friends and neighbors were worried, concerned, kind, and compassionate. They fussed over all of us – did we need anything? Could they take the kids to school for us? More 29 grain GF “bread”? (The answer to that is always NO, thank you). We felt their love and took solace in their support and kindness.
Fast forward seven years. My middle class, middle-aged husband didn’t come home one night. Turns out he’d been arrested in a neighboring state for drug trafficking.
Whaaaatttt? How can that be?!?
A minute ago we were a couple, with a couple of kids and a couple of rough patches. Now he had a couple of federal charges and had made the headlines in a couple of local news outlets. I was reeling. Our children were devastated. We needed help. Support. Kindness. Compassion.
Oh don’t get me wrong, phone calls came and people showed up on our doorstep. However, that was the police and the FBI. Neighbors with casseroles were nowhere to be seen. Silence. Nothing but crickets. Hell, I would have even taken the freakin’ gluten free “bread”!
So what happened? Why were friends and neighbors so kind and compassionate when my husband had a physical ailment, but not when he had drug problem? At first I was hurt and confused. I thought these people were our friends. Surely they remember all of the great things about my husband because, let me tell you, there were many. But it didn’t seem to matter. My hurt quickly turned into anger. I was angry at him. I was angry at them. I was angry at myself. I said the F word a lot.
I was a woman who was divorcing the love of my life after more than 20 years of marriage. I sobbed my guts out. Every day. Usually in the shower so my kids wouldn’t know. I doubled over in devastated agony as I handed my wedding ring to my sister and asked her to try and sell it for me so I could make the house payment.
I was broken.
And then it dumped snow. And I mean DUMPED! I raised the garage door to see two feet of beautiful, powdery, holy-shit-how-am-I-going-to-get-out-of-my-driveway snow. The neighbors had apparently watched the nightly news, saw the forecast, and got up early to get going on their snow removal. Their driveways were pristinely clear. In past years, Stephen would have been out there with them, waving and joking with each other about damn Mother Nature.
Just one neighbor was still outside finishing up his sidewalk as I ventured out. He did not dare make eye contact with me. He quickly finished and went inside. I stood knee deep in snow in the middle of my driveway and began to weep.
And then, in the quiet morning hush that comes with a fresh blanket of snow, it became clear. These people, neighbors, friends – they were afraid. Fear was running the show. They were afraid of their own feelings…
“What if it was my spouse or child?”
“Do I really know the person sleeping next to me?”
“Is my alcohol use out of control?”
“What if someone finds out my secret?”
“What do I say to LolaB?”
They were paralyzed by fear. Fearful of saying or doing the “wrong” thing should our paths cross. Fearful that addiction might touch their lives, if it hadn’t already. Terrified that my life circumstances could very well be theirs.
I had been looking for casseroles and compassion from them. It hadn’t occurred to me until that very moment that I needed to have compassion for them.
There’s a definition of compassion that says: The humane quality of understanding the suffering of others and wanting to do something about it. The definition likens compassion to mercifulness… a disposition to be kind and forgiving. In my despair, in my anger and grieving and aloneness, I had not seen their fear. I had not seen our collective humanness.
And now that I had seen their suffering, I wanted to do something about it.
So I Googled how to mix gasoline and oil in a snowblower, fired that motherfucker up, cleared my driveway like a boss, took a selfie in my snow-free driveway to show my kids that their mom is a badass, and then went inside to make a casserole for my neighbor.