The last few Fridays I’ve been teaching classes on Biblical holy days for a friend who is overloaded. Amazing how that sense of being of assistance to her has made it a delight to prepare and do these classes, even more than it normally would be. It made sense that she would ask me (and she didn’t exactly, not directly–more on that later), since I’d spend several years in Israel, saw and participated in the Jewish celebrations, learned Hebrew, used the blessings and songs. I mean, if she was struggling, I would definitely be the one to help out, but still, it took a while.
First, to get through to me that she was struggling–from her frequent pauses when I’d ask her how she was doing, from her lack of usual energy and clarity, and finally learning that she was going to the doctor to see about help with sleeping, her hug that seemed to be receiving and not just giving as it often was before, I finally put it all together. She was losing sleep, having trouble problem solving, worrying about transitions her kids were making or would need to be ready to make into public school and beyond, and on top of that, doing so much driving to classes, sports, and music lessons that she hardly had a moment to sit and gather her thoughts. And she works hard to keep her home in order (unlike me) and make regular meals, and puts her husband’s needs before her own. Where I have guarded a certain margin of time and energy these past five years or so (post small children) to do things I simply enjoy–reading, writing, gardening, and such, she has no hobbies or pursuits that I know of that don’t have to do with serving her family in some way. Once I asked her what she’d like to do if she had the day to herself, and i don’t believe I got a straight answer–it was as if that dilemma would never come up. I admire her devotion, as I said, but wonder if she may be de-selfing too much. I want to see that spunk, the occasional snappy answer to her husband, that energetic, adventurous spirit she has, along with the gentle spirit I admire so much. It’s an active, gentle love. But lately there has been only “I should be able to snap out of this…” and continued efforts to do all her duties. I would have cried Help long ago.
Planning the classes took some easing in, trying to see what she really wanted–for some help? For me to teach the classes? And did she have opinions and preferences and key ideas she wanted to make sure I included? All indirect–she never directly says things like “No, I think this would be better,” or “This is what I’d like like you to do.” Since I hate to be pushy or to make my friend feel dominated, I had to feel it out gently. This by a person who, at home, cuts through overly rambling complaints with, “What do you want, anyway?” and has got into the habit of cutting certain family members off with a “Got it; you don’t have to keep going on about it.” I also refuse, on principle, to respond to oblique attempts to manage or influence me, such as, “You’re wearing that?” [that merits no answer, maybe a look, or a request for a meaningful question] or “I don’t feel like spaghetti today,” [“If you don’t eat it, you’ll be hungry later, but suit yourself.”] or “Mom, we’re completely out of mini-yogurts, and I have to have a good lunch before my test tomorrow!” [we have A, B, and C. Take it or leave it.] Certainly the neighbor kid’s “I wish I had a glass of milk” spoken to the ceiling does not get a response.
But it’s different with this friend–I’m continually trying to figure out what she wants, what she feels, what bothers her, what makes her happy, and it’s a real challenge, because she’s so…nice. In the best, most true sense. My children and I use the words “wonderful,” “amazing,” etc. She’s the best mom they know–sometimes second to me, out of politeness), the most patient wife, the kindest daughter-in-law, the most loving hostess, the sweetest friend. We’ve been friends for about ten years, homeschooled our kids together for many of those, and I just enjoy being around her, so gentle and kind is she, so patient, so self-effacing, hard working and devoted to her husband and family. She was a huge support to me in hard times–stress with kids, with spouse, with culture shock, financial strain–her presence was a balm, her home a haven, for me and all my family. And she almost never, ever says she needs something from me, wants me to do something, help her with something (beyond the normal carpooling, potluck, division of labor in group events). That’s why I’m quite wild about the opportunity to take this burden off of her shoulders.