I’m tempted to just write the words “Thank you” and be done with it this week. After all, what else is there for me to say?
I’m referring, of course, to the steady stream of comments, offers and good wishes that followed the appearance of last week’s column, where I noted that my wife Heather had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. That included the oddly celebratory mood both of us had been feeling, since we had finally ripped the mask off our opponent and knew what we were fighting.
Pieces like that are always a little risky to write. My oldest rule for this column, taught to me a long time ago, is “No navel gazing” – anything said here has to be of interest to more than just me. There has to be a universal tie, something for a reader to latch onto and care about, even in the most personal of stories.
Even so, I was shocked at just how many of you turned out to care very much indeed.
Some of you shared words of encouragement or stories of friends and family with MS that kept living normal lives. Others had suggestions for how diet could help Heather, or how activity could. A couple of very powerful accounts talked of their own struggles to put a name to a chronic condition and how isolating and painful it could be to just not know.
And of course, from friends and family across the board, we’ve heard the invocation: “If there’s anything I can do …”
Simple words. Powerful ones, too.
We’ve all said it, of course. Often when we don’t know what else to say. The times when the mountain seems so large and threatening, a mystery too great to even comprehend – and yet, we know we can’t let a friend go up it alone.
And so, when the hard news comes, we reach out a hand. Maybe with a confident grip, maybe unsure of our own strength and ability. After all, sometimes there isn’t much one can do. The late, great fantasy author Terry Pratchett, who died recently from Alzheimer’s-related complications, once said that he appreciated the sentiment but was only accepting offers from “very high-end experts in brain chemistry.”
But it does help. More than anyone realizes.
Pain isolates. It can be the physical pain of an illness, the emotional pain of a death, the all-consuming anguish of news too terrible to comprehend. All of it tries to draw limits, to seal us off from the world, to trap us in our own bodies and heads.
Granted, some withdrawal can be necessary to heal. But it’s easy to get trapped in the cycle, to become convinced that you have to deal with this yourself, that you don’t want to be a burden. It feels like a surrender to ask for help, an admission that you’ve lost control.
And then, someone reaches beyond the walls.
It may not be huge. It may not even be much more than the words themselves. But like a candle in the night, it becomes a small gesture that changes the landscape.
Someone wants to help, even if they’re not quite sure how.
Someone’s heart has opened to me.
That is a powerful realization.
A friend recently reminded me that it’s a gift to allow others to give. It’s a harder lesson than it sounds. But a true one.
In admitting our mutual need, we summon our mutual strength. We become a family. No … we remind ourselves of the family that we already are.
Thank you for that reminder.
“If there’s anything I can do ….”
Trust me. You certainly have.