I texted my friend a funny GIF on Friday. It was a deliberate choice: Tom Hanks, suited up in his coach's uniform yelling, "there's no crying in baseball!". The issue upsetting me felt as ridiculous of a thing to cry over as baseball, but in that moment, it was the weight of the world on my shoulders. I couldn't make someone happy. For all the work I've done to let go of other peoples' opinions, I certainly don't like to disappoint anyone.
Five minutes later, my phone rang. "What happened?", said my friend, in the empathetic tone I love her for. It always makes it feel as though the perceived drama of the moment is completely justified before she even knows what it is. It was the tone that said "it's okay to cry in baseball". I explained the situation and like we always do in our friendship, we commiserated, processed, and hung up both feeling better.
I am grateful for the friendships in my life, even in the moments where I'm at my wit's end and the only way I know to ask for help is by Tom Hanks proxy. I put this into practice with my workshop participants, sending a weekly email with the simple subject line: Checking In. I think by nature, humans are terrible at asking for help. I don't take my support system for granted, whether that's family, friends, or even virtual communities. The moment my friend called, it reminded me just how much some cares about my wellbeing. It was a treasured moment given my experience earlier that day.
Several hours before our call, I was out delivering my regular Meals on Wheels route. The newest man on my route is always unpredictable. I've been delivering to him for several months and have written about him before, often because he spawns quite entertaining stories. On Friday, as with most days recently, he was surprised by my arrival. "I'm here with the food!" I always cry out, giving him time to put on pants if the situations warrants.
My heart sank a little when he asked if I had the "little sandwiches". I realized he was probably confusing me with the food cart that goes around to drop off food to residents on the corporate meal plan. He was struggling to turn off the blaring TV, embarrassed to get up half-dressed, and completely at a loss of what to do.
His little spitfire of a neighbor suddenly appeared next to me. She's told me before that she is always willing to help, and has placed the food inside of his apartment (we can't currently enter) when he's been too sound asleep to answer. "Do you need help?", she asked. "He's a little confused today", I replied. I set the food down on the floor just inside the door and we stepped back into the breezeway.
She explained to me that his son had placed him in this apartment and then moved several hours away. There were family dynamics at play that strained their relationship. I usually chalk his uncouth behavior to the dissolving filter that happens in old age. Perhaps he's crossed a line I'm not privy to with my five minute weekly interaction. Nonetheless, he shares the predicament of most of my clients. He is alone.
The neighbor and her husband (who himself suffers from Alzheimer's and sleeps most of the time, she confessed to me) keep an eye on my client. I'm grateful he has them, even if his feistiness may be at risk of burning that bridge as well. Many of my clients don't have anyone, save the daily visits from the Meals on Wheels volunteers.
As someone who coaches others to build support systems, I hold my role of volunteer in high regard. I am far more than a delivery person, I am a welfare check. If someone doesn't answer their door, I call the office, who then follows up with them to ensure there isn't an emergency. I've called when a client seems particularly off and I'm worried they won't seek medical help. I've called when it appears as though electricity has been turned off, as my client base is more likely to forget to pay a bill as willfully disregard it.
Two years in, I know when my clients are having good days and when they are having bad days. I pay attention and I read between the lines, just like my sweet friend who called me on Friday. I care, more than most of them will ever know. I am a volunteer who delivers a hot meal. I hope that I am also a gentle reminder that they are not, in fact, all alone.
"Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier." ~Albert Schweitzer