After a really long week, I had a pleasantly low-key evening with a new but beloved friend. We cooked dinner, then hung out on the couch job-hunting on separate laptops. I got an email from an acquaintance-- I don't know him very well, but I like and respect him tremendously-- who I hadn't heard from in a long time. He wrote that he was thinking of me, wondering how I'm doing, and asking after me and my partner and if I'd like to have tea with him some time.
I'm quite moved. He knows I've got family in the Middle East, and I have this hunch that he wrote because he wants to be supportive if I'm worried about them. And I really appreciate it. It's a brave, socially awkward thing to do-- to reach out to somebody because you're thinking they might be hurting. I wrote him back right away. I'd love to have tea with him.
My friend and I wound up talking about how awkward it is to reach out to somebody who's suffering. I mentioned the fear of intruding, and she said that her own fear is of being an additional burden on somebody who is already overloaded-- that they will feel the need to take care of her. I relate to that fear. At the same time, my own experience is that most Americans hold back and avoid reaching out to somebody who is in trouble. The result is folks feeling alone, rejected, and abandoned by their communities in their time of trouble.
There are several times I've done that-- known somebody was suffering, and not reached out through fear of burdening or intruding on them-- and later learned that they were really isolated and suffering because nobody was supporting them. I regret this, and I want to try to avoid it. These days I phone, I leave voicemails saying that I'm thinking of you, I hope you're okay, I'd love to talk if you have the energy, but I also understand you might be too overwhelmed and busy to call back and please don't feel an obligation to do so. It results in rambly, long, slightly socially-awkward voicemails. Sometimes I'll leave several every month for a few months before I hear back from someone. But I generally get feedback that knowing I'm thinking of them is appreciated. Just hearing an affectionate voice can help break isolation.
I'd rather be pushy and socially awkward then abandon somebody in pain.
Eventually we all have trouble. We all deal with aging and illness and death in the family. So now's a good time to think about how we're going to help each other through.
Go ahead, send me email. Don't worry too much about being pushy or making me take care of you.
I'm just glad to hear your voice.