The flu arrived at our house the night before last. It found its way through Maple, of course. Our little bridge between the world and the private landscape of our family. I've washed my hands so many times in the last day and a half that the skin is raw and cracking and my knuckles are close to bleeding. It is no exaggeration to say that staying up all night with a sick child is immense work. To care so completely for someone else's physical self when they are unable to do so for themselves is to show up and be present like nothing else.
It is at once self-less and self-full presence. Helping another being through something that they have no option but to travel through- you do your best to face it with them, and in any way that you can, carry some of their burden. Because we all take our turn in the seat of profound physical surrender. Whether we choose the path to our own calamity or the path chooses us, we all arrive their sooner or later, and for most of us, many times over.
I know that I am going to need space held for me so I do my best to put myself aside and hold space for others when called. That's not to say that I'm not kicking and screaming when the call first lands in the room down the hall just as I'm about to lay down my head and settle in for the cold night. It doesn't mean that I bypass navigating through much of my own resistance when the call shows up and it's a fucking gnarly mess.
But I pull myself there. Sometimes it comes easier than others and every time I am always thankful for the grace that rises up in helping me to show up. I think that is what I mean by self-full. I have to embody myself so fully in those threshold moments, whether they are mine or someone else's, that there is no room for my own doubt or resistance or separation. I must be fully present in those moments. Anything less is a disservice in my experience. And mostly a disservice to myself and my knowledge of my capacity and intention to be a good and supportive and loving and brave human.
The first time that I can remember ever being called to hold space was utterly random. I was living in a sublet in a house with a bunch of other young women in Prescott Arizona the summer before my last semester at Prescott College. The three other women in the house had lived there for several years together and I was a bit of an interloper. I didn't fit in with the house dynamic and I didn't really care. It was a place for me to land between river trips on the Colorado through Grand Canyon and well, I was very much wrapped up in myself as one mostly should be in their early 20's. One of the women in the house was pregnant and due right around the time that my sublet was up and I was moving in to another place with my boyfriend at the time. She was single and incredibly bold, albeit somewhat remote. The other 2 women in the house were her birth support and well, I figured that they had the whole thing under wraps and I literally never even thought about it.
Until, on my last night in the house I woke up in the night, as one does, to the sounds of a woman walking through the gates of labor. So I got up. Planning to sneak out the back door and get the heck out of there. But it was not to be. When I walked out of my room and through the hall past this woman's room, I could see that the other women in the house were holding themselves separate. They were not inhabiting themselves in the way that I intuitively saw was necessary. So I stayed. I ushered my boyfriend out to his car and he slept there until the sun rose when he headed down into down. I stayed with her for the day. Past when the midwives arrived. Past her transition into active labor. Through her doubt and through her struggle, I stayed. Moving closer and closer until the sound of my support drowned out the snickers and commentary on the horrors of childbirth from her friends. I stayed til her babe was snug and clean and her breast.
It was spectacular and life changing and entirely unexpected. I just answered the call I guess. And I learned a lot in the process. About showing up. About being myself. About not worrying about what things look like from the outside and that self- reflection is not the same as self-criticism. The craziest thing about that day was that later that night when we were sitting around unpacking boxes with some friends- one of them shared with me his day and how he had been called as well. But in quite the opposite way. He had been a bystander to a catastrophic car accident on the road out of town. Right up by the mall and the movie theater. He had stood by and spoke softly to the woman trapped in the car as they waited for the paramedics to arrive and as the life slipped out of her and her small son. Not his plan. Not his hope. But he showed up when called and with all of his grace and heart held space in their dark hour. Even with a shit ending. Showed up and held space and tried as best he could to be a source of peace and comfort.
This took a sad turn. Which was not my intention. But I guess as much as I am scared about every single thing that could go wrong in life- that on some level is bound to go wrong in life- it is a comfort to me that I know how to stand on the threshold when called. And as much as I rather not have sickness and sorrow living within my walls, I am thankful for these opportunities to practice.
And fingers crossed that there is only one flu in our house this week and not 4....