Thursday, July 17, 2014

A loss for words

There is something so entirely overwhelming about saying thank you in the way you want to say it when you really want to say it right, when you really want to make your gratitude clear. I feel frozen, sometimes, certain that no matter what comes out of my mouth, it won't come out right and the words won't work to say what I mean. It's the idea that someone thought of me enough to do this thing, and if that's not enough, they then did this thing, carried through with it. In a really wonderful way, I can hardly bear such moments of kindness. In the last couple months, post surgery, I've had an extraordinary opportunity to practice my thanking skills, day after day, but along the way, I've realized that this is the sort of thing you only get worse at if you attempt to practice it.

One of my surgeons tells me that as I was wheeled out of the operating room, I thanked him profusely, more profuse thanking than he'd ever received before, he said. I have no memory of this, and it's a little funny to be so thankful to a person who just removed everything behind the skin of your breasts, but it's nice to know that my completely uninhibited, hopped up on drugs self holds the very same values as my everyday, overly conscientious, earnest, and self-critical self.

I remember a day not long after my mastectomy, probably a week into recovery, when the director of my child's school showed up to the house with a platter and a bag full of food. I thanked her, she drove off, and I walked into the kitchen to glance at what she had brought. Homemade chicken fingers, marinated asparagus, spinach salad, cookies, other things. I stared at the spread, lowered my head, and cried. I moved to this town less than two years ago and I am baffled at how much we lucked out, how this village is a set of open arms ready to steady you, or feed you, or embrace you, and really, how on earth did we even land here? That homemade meal that I cried over was preceded and followed by weeks and weeks of other equally thoughtful meals, all of these coordinated by another dear friend whom I met only a year ago.

(As a side note, but a really important one, I also want to somehow thank just about everyone we've met in this town so far, because we have found ourselves living in a place where people readily say hello and ask how are you and they inquire about your kids and invite you for cookouts and it all seems so surreal. There can be places like this still? My kids might be able to ride bikes with other kids until dusk someday and I wouldn't be a bad parent for letting them do this? This place is a real place... and we live here? Thank you, Winchester, we love you.)

What I write about here is a microcosm of what we have witnessed in our two short years in this town.

Add up all the edible messages of post-surgery neighborly support and we were fed for six weeks straight. And then there were the people from hours away who made us frozen dinners that filled our freezer or those who checked in before going to Trader Joe's or Target to find out just what we'd want if we were there. And the friends who took Noah on day trips with their family. And a recovery bag that only an experienced mastectomy patient could pack for another, filled with candy, chapstick, bandages, and some other medical goodies. And from others, a treat bag full of Us Weekly's and Cosmos, a basket brimming with soaps and lotions. A cute gurney for the hospital, visits in my room and then at home, a handmade and exquisitely soft and pink prayer shawl.

More than one friend offered to shave my armpits since I wouldn't be able to lift my arms for weeks. And then there were flowers, cookie bouquets, chocolates, pears, gift cards, rides to the doctor, books, cards, advice, notes, emails, calls, texts. One of my favorite observations came from a favorite family member..." It's like you died, but you get to enjoy all the sympathy gifts." Indeed.

Now take all this generosity and add to it my in-laws and my aunt and uncle who lived with us for weeks for the sole purpose of being helpful, and you have me, paralyzed with gratitude, on the verge of implosion.

Did I deserve all of this? Of course not. I fully felt I did not deserve it, not even a fraction of it. It was from this sort of apologetic frame of mind that I attempted, day after day, to reach out and express my gratitude, hopelessly, never with the right words.

This feeling locked into my throat is not dissimilar to the moments when I am trying to apologize and the word "sorry" sounds unbelievably trite in my head, so I try and avoid that word and all of the "so's" that I could place in front of it. For example, the day when my three year old son accidentally knocked over a multi thousand dollar sculpture created by an incredible artist family member of ours (as he sat watching), I clenched in horror, barely able to speak. Everything I could say was wrong; instead, I believe I just stood in silent shock for the remainder of our visit that day, while the artist and his wife graciously downplayed the entire event. My husband assured me, when finally I was able to discuss the incident, that someday we would make it up to him in just the right way. I keep an eye out, but I'm still at a loss.

So I don't have the words, not even in my thank you notes, not really. It's hard to say sorry, it's hard to say thank you, and it's especially hard when you really, really mean it.

One of my best friends got married recently and her eyes glistened beautifully with bridal tears throughout the day before the ceremony (as if she could be more gorgeous, but wow, those eyes of joy!). "I've been crying most of the day," she told me when I met up with her at noon... "mostly with tears of gratitude." No matter how much we know we are loved, it is a rare gift to have all of that love together in one place, collectively saying "I love you and am completely behind as you take this step forward."

Weddings are one of the few times we can get this sort of overwhelming, unforgettable gathering of people, all who add warmth to our lives. And funerals are another (but if we're the dead one, what good does it do?).

But sometimes, we get it when we are deeply in need, if in fact we've surrounded ourselves with the right people. It usually doesn't come all at once, but it is equally unforgettable and life-changing. Because of this love, a potentially horrible time in my life turned out to be an exceptional one, not because I wasn't in pain and didn't feel pained by what had just occurred, but because everywhere I turned, I had someone to thank, something to be grateful for. I've given myself this page to say this now without becoming tongue-tied. You healed me up so fast and I cannot possibly thank you enough. It will never come out quite right, but here is my final attempt at saying wow, bless you all, thank you; I'd be all twisted around without you here.

"Your experiences will be yours alone. But truth and best friendship will rarely if ever disappoint you." Anne Lamott

Some people have no problem at all accepting
gifts offered to them