I cringed when Martha raised her hand and said, “I can pull the crew boats. I have a big SUV and I’ve been hauling farm animals, some weighing a ton or more, around my whole life.” I groaned; my fall just got more complex. Life with Martha is complicated. She might have a lifetime of experience towing large trailers, but the befuddling details of life, wear her out.
Martha is the mother of my daughter’s closest friend; our daughters have been friends since kindergarten, Zoe (Martha’s daughter) is sweet and kind, easy to be with, she’s like another daughter. Rarely there’s drama between our girls, they like the same activities, wouldn’t celebrate a birthday without the other, and giggle a lot. I have a soft spot for Zoe. I know how hard it is to live with Martha. She struggles with addiction and mental illness; bad addiction and bad mental illness. And she’s alone. Three things I don’t face every day.
For me, this soup of complications and heartbreak is a well worn pair of shoes. My knowledge isn’t from my personal experience, I’m quirky, don’t drink and long married, but my experience comes from being the daughter of a mentally ill, addicted person and the sister of a mentally ill person. Growing up, my father was a violent version of Martha and having a relationship with my sister has made me an expert at being a calming influence.
If Martha was going to pull the boats, then my only choice was to help her; my job this fall is to guide her, calm her and take care of the details. If I navigate for her, she will be empowered, feel like she can contribute, feel validated, and be appreciated. The scope of my arrogance is breathtaking. It’s only by grace of God that my days are full of empowerment, appreciation, and a calm soul.
For the sake of brevity and explanation, I admit, I was moved by the democrats, “We’re All in This Together”, convention speeches. They articulated a universal truth that every political, religious and lasting belief system subscribes to; we need to help each other. Call it good karma, mitzvah, good deed, paying it forward, obligation, right from wrong, golden rule, it doesn’t matter, the principle is the same: help someone less fortunate than you…end of story. And if we pay attention, we will see the outstretched helping hands that surround us. I have.
We had packed Martha’s SUV full of rowing gear and rowers and safely pulled the thirty foot trailer, one hundred miles to a pretty lake in Massachusetts. Fall is the time of year you want to be in New England; the trees are crimson, gold and rusty red, the air is crisp, the historic town greens are full of playful and reverent citizens.
I had successfully and calmly navigated our trip. I had put aside my anxieties and fears, cracked jokes and kept Martha on task, encouraging her to be in the moment and let her worry go, just for today. We arrived at the race safely. I took a deep breath. I had eight hours to recuperate and prepare for the trip home.
The crew kids were busy unloading and rigging the boats, the parents setting up the food tent, laughing and chugging coffee; praying the rain would hold off until the end of the day. One of the dads noticed Martha’s front tire was bald, in bad shape, bowing in an odd direction. He quietly called over two other dads and said; “what do you think?”
“Not good,” said the dad who is a car enthusiast.
“Can we change it for her?” said the third.
“Let’s try,” they all said.
No luck, the lug nuts wouldn’t budge they were fused and striped.
They stood quietly and companionably, contemplating options, “we need to fix this now, we need to help her,” the take-charge one said, “this is dangerous.”
The men pragmatically looked at the boats and gear--well over hundred-thousand worth--that she was responsible for, the seven lives that were counting on her, and the tragedy they needed to avoid.
The car enthusiast said, “I’ll tell Martha her options.”
The third one said, “I’ll figure out where we can get this done.”
The take-charge one said, “I’ll go with her.”
A community member was in need and they were going to help. What was most remarkable was the kindness, the gentleness and respect they showed Martha. They made it easy for her to accept their help; there were no judgments, no condemnations (they left that job to their wives), no condescension; it was simple, a job needed to be done. They smiled at her when she looked stricken, made her laugh when her hands began to shake, reassured her that they were with her until the end. They were willing to share their resources, knowledge and compassion. They wanted to keep her safe.
I was watching a selfless act unfold, witnessing a real life example of “we’re all in this together.” I was profoundly moved by their kindness, inspired by their generosity. I was grateful for their willingness to help.
They fulfilled their unspoken promise; they helped her to the end.