While listening to a speaker recently the audience was challenged to think about our connections to people and whether or not we had true friends. We were to imagine a scenario in which we received tragic news in the middle of the night and to question if there were people we could call who would be there for us in a heartbeat. In the days that followed the presentation my mind thought back to a woman I'd never met but one I wouldn't forget.
It was a December day several years ago. My husband was having a medical test done and we knew we would be at the hospital most of the day. Our girls were quite young and since we needed to leave early in the morning we arranged for them to be taken to and from school, driven to their music lessons and looked after until we arrived home. I hadn’t a single worry about my children. We had good friends who were more than willing to help.
A few hours later I was flipping through a magazine at my husband’s bedside as he rested from the procedure. The curtains were drawn which gives the patient some degree of privacy but provides no barrier against any conversation taking place in the unit.
Activity beyond the curtain indicated a new patient was arriving and within moments a nurse began asking a few questions. I tried to focus on the magazine I was reading but it was impossible not to hear their conversation. There must not have been anyone with the patient because the nurse asked if perhaps someone was parking a vehicle and would be in the room shortly. The patient, who I could now hear was a woman, said she didn't have anyone with her. The nurse asked how she had gotten to the hospital and the response was she had taken a taxi. The nurse again asked about someone being with her to which the woman replied—in words that remain with me—“I have no one.” Since her procedure would leave her groggy and requiring follow-up care, the nurse asked how she would get back home and who could look in on her. The answer? “I will just call a cab. I have learned to look after myself.” I never saw the woman. I don’t know how old she was or what circumstances in life led her to a point where she believed her reality to be “I have no one," but I remember that moment so clearly.
I am extremely grateful I could come up with names of those I know would be on my doorstep to help. If you can say the same, take a moment and fully appreciate what that means. But that’s just part of the equation. There is a challenge to each of us to turn the question around and instead of asking if we have someone to call at 2:00 in the morning, I think we should ask ourselves if there are people who would call us. There are times we will be in need and many times when we will be needed.
Sadly there are likely many in the situation of the woman at the hospital that December day. Maybe there were people who would have happily provided a ride to and from her procedure, someone who would have sat with her and simply held her hand, someone to be with her when she heard what the doctor had to say, or someone willing to make a cup of tea for her that evening. Maybe she didn’t feel comfortable asking. Did she fear rejection or harbor concern she would be considered a burden? How sad to think there are others who feel the same way.
The worst thing we can do is sit back and wait, or believe someone else could do it better. When it comes to helping it’s about showing up. Perhaps armed with tools, a pot of coffee or a plate of sandwiches. Perhaps empty-handed to simply hold the hand of those needing comfort. Perhaps we come to talk…or more importantly, to listen. People will remember less about what we did and more about the fact we showed up.
We need to respond to the calls when they come, but let’s make sure we’re not just waiting for the call. We have to take the lead and offer what we can, when we can. Sometimes the offer might be politely declined or flat-out refused but that’s okay. So much better to offer and not be needed, than to be needed and never have offered. That’s my outlook