When was the last time you entered a venue and everyone cheered for you? While I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks to identify the people who are truly a part of my support system, it’s been frustrating to feel like I had made connections with a specific group of people that turned out to be false, at least in the form of showing support. I’ve felt like Diane as she enters the bar, and everyone grumbles a hello, if that. I have not felt acknowledged for where I’m at in life and have been left clinging to a buoy in the middle of the ocean. Maybe I could swim halfway to shore, amidst my physical pain. However, when there isn’t anyone who will drive their boat to pick me up at that halfway point or even invite me onto their boat so we could sit there and meet, I’ll surely drown. No one deserves that. What we all truly do deserve is to surround ourselves with people who will give us the reaction Norm always got when he walked into Cheers. So who are the people in your life who want to give you that? I got a big dose of this last weekend, and it was the best medicine I could’ve hoped for.
In 1992, I graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, and my senior year was definitely one of the best years of my life. All of my friends would have house parties, which included everything from dancing late into the night to cooking dinner for a large gathering to playing hopscotch outside our duplex. We even had bowling nights at one point in time, and it just felt so good to be surrounded by these people. After 20 years of not seeing most of my friends from college, we all came together last weekend to mourn the loss of a dear friend who died way before his time. The lesson many of us took away from his death was that our reunion was a long time in the making, and we should be initiating getting together because we want to, not because of a major loss. Our friend should’ve been there to reconnect with us, and now we know not to take our friendships for granted. I always think I have plenty of time to get together with someone, eventually, but his spirit made it all too clear that this is definitely not the case.
Last Friday, friends began flying into Minneapolis from all over the world, including one of us Midwesterners who now calls Australia his home. There were different factions of friends that went beyond our college chums, most of the people outside of Luther being people I didn’t know. But it didn’t matter. Everyone embraced one another, even if it was for the first time. As my friend from Dallas and I were talking about how the weekend was going to affect my health and how I was going to get through it, she asked me what my dream scenario would be. “If I could just sit on the couch all night long, that would be awesome. People can take numbers, and you can call out each number after I get a few minutes to chat with each one.” While we both thought it was pretty funny, my reality turned out to be the scenario I proposed (without the necessity of numbers, of course). That first night, there were about twenty of us gathered at a friend’s house who luckily only lives a few blocks away from me. After we walked in and hugged our greetings to the few who were there to help get ready for the evening’s festivities, I was able to finally settle myself on the couch and thoroughly embrace everyone’s support, both in that moment and as they walked in the door throughout the evening.
From that vantage point in the living room, I watched and admired the way people looked out for one another, making sure everyone’s needs were met, especially our host. He was completely in tune with what each person needed (as a teacher, I’d say he had an Individualized Education Plan for each one of us), whether it be offering a chair to someone he knew was not physically stable enough to walk or stand or appearing with a non-alcoholic drink for those he knew did not drink, like myself . Even just asking me how I was doing throughout the weekend since he knew about my health while, at the same time, he was mourning the loss of one of his best friends was astounding to me. Everyone else was just as compassionate and conscientious. For the first time in a long time, I felt comfortable being who I am and enjoying the conversations and affection of those around me. I could lean my head against any one of those people and know that I would be taken care of. If someone I didn’t know sat down, we would feel like old friends in a matter of minutes, engaging in a variety of deep and light-hearted conversations, whatever the moment called for. One friend from Milwaukee brought two meals, and so she graciously fed me both nights we were together. Another friend drove me wherever I needed to go without question, and everyone made sure that we all had rides and knew where we were going to be next. Just being in the presence of so many loving people reminded me that these are special people I can count on to be a part of my support system, no matter how far apart we are in the world.
After our friend’s memorial service on Saturday, it was decided that we’d gather at Nye’s, a Minneapolis landmark that is about to be sold and torn down. Since my ride had to meet her cousin before joining us, I walked into the bar by myself. And what do you suppose I heard? “Yay! She’s here!” When I looked around the bar, I smiled, because every single person there was someone I knew. It’s that Norm greeting and the way that everyone truly cared about one another that really struck me as the best medicine for my spirit. My body may have been on overload with rising pain levels, but I needed to allow myself to be in the company of so many nourishing people. I’ve learned that I have to make the effort to reach out to these people to maintain the connections we have re-established. Support doesn’t have to come in a physical form, although it’s nice to have that affection too. It can come from hearing someone’s voice on the phone, Skyping with one another, creating a place for us to gather and sharing memories on Facebook…Because when you’ve found those people you cherish and they support you too, you want to hold onto them for the rest of your life.
My Hopes: I hope that I will continue to make the effort to reach out to the people I know are nourishing; in fact, that is more of a promise. Now that I’ve had such a positive experience after dealing with the loss of people I thought were a part of my support system, I don’t ever want to let it go. It isn’t easy staying in touch with people, and it does require effort. I hope that “Out of sight, Out of mind” won’t happen to you either. It is so easy to take life for granted. In the past few years, I have lost two of my friends from Luther before I got a chance to get together with them (and one of them was going to meet me for lunch just days after he died). People will not always be here. Life happens. Death happens. I hope we all choose to reach out to one another, to get together on a regular basis (at least every few years if separated by distance or more often if you live in the same city), and to make life happen in the here and now. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but I’ve gone through it one too many times to maintain the same pattern. Because life is beauty, a gift expecting nothing in return. Never take those gifts for granted!