When you see a friend posting witty banter and wicked barbs and being the life of the party…but you notice minuscule clues that say she’s posting from a medical treatment center rather than a hotel…do you:
- ask outright? HEY, that is clearly a hospital blanket, are you in hospital?
- jump to conclusions? OMG are you sick? How serious is it?
- ignore her “context clues” and send a private demand for information? “We are your friends, and you can be open with us” (even if you don’t want to, are not ready to, and worry that you would break down if you did).
- match her witty banter, offer convivial spirit, and end with an undemanding message of approval and affection?
If you are me, options 1-3 are oblivious, callous, and appalling. I strive to provide option #4 as valiantly as possible. But…
If you are me, you will want, a good portion of the time, option #5: to see the light dawn in your friend’s eyes, and have her throw her arms open to hold you, and say, “Oh god,” just from knowing, and sharing, or being with you.
At least, you think you want it. If confronted with it, given your (my) Norwegian prairie farmer upbringing, you would probably cringe internally, insist that Everything Is All Right, and end up comforting your would-be comforter. Comfort doesn’t get the cow milked, feelings don’t help you chop wood, and when the baby died, I just went out and painted the barn to get over it.
It’s hard for me to accept nurturing. It terrifies me; it makes me feel weak. It’s one reason I’ve always gotten along better with men, who were raised to be alienated from their emotions. When they have decided it was safe to give me a punch in the arm and say something half-insulting, half-reassuring, I was safe to take it and not be overwhelmed. I could recognize that my boys from home did not throw that crumb of support casually, that it was really a feast, and they struggled to provide it.
But when a waitress calls me “Honey” and keeps my coffee hot, when a porter calls me “Kiddo” and doesn’t wait to be asked for help to give it, I tip big, and I get choked up later when it comes to mind.