look for the helpers

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“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.”     – Fred Rogers

You’ve probably seen this Mr. Rogers quote before. It comes up here and there, especially in times of national or global crisis. It shows up in a Facebook post after a tragic murder or some other senseless event that is difficult to understand. It comes when we are scrounging for hope, for faith in humanity. For faith in each other.

I thought about that line, Look for the helpers, as I read an email late last night about the passing of a very special man. The email was from his incredible wife, and I could feel the love and the heartbreak in her words.

He was a minister, a leader, a father, a grandfather and a friend. I met him and his amazing family during the most difficult time in my own family’s story  – during the period surrounding the short life and death of our infant daughter, Tikva, almost 8 years ago.

We didn’t know them at first, but we knew their daughter who had been a fellow parent a few years before when my older child had started preschool with her children. She reached out to us, and with her, so did her parents.

They offered their love. They offered their help. They offered the support of their incredible community. They collected furniture from their community for our empty home, baby clothes for our still unborn child, linens for our beds and bathroom, pots and pans and silverware and dishes for our kitchen. With grace and unconditional generosity of spirit, they held us when we needed it most. They brought ease so that we could focus on our family.

They weren’t the only ones. Friends and family left meals daily in a cooler on our doorstep for the entire two months of our daughter’s life and for two months after that. Relatives came through for us in uncountable ways. The Jewish community opened their arms and gave us a place to land. The parents at our older daughter’s preschool instantly loved her and cared for her and brought her home with them after school so we could stay late at the hospital with Tikva.

And a vast community of parents who had also lost babies – some further along on their own journeys and some right where I was – held me as I grieved, for as long as it took. Tikva’s loss brought the gift of new friends to my life, friends I cannot imagine my life without.

The helpers.

I didn’t have to look for them or seek them out; they just showed up. I didn’t have to ask; they just knew. Because of them, I know how good people are. Because of them, I survived. Because of them, I knew I was held and never felt alone. Because of them, it is impossible to lose faith in humanity.

 

 

 

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resilience

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We not only care for our children because we love them, but we also love our children because we care for them. The process of taking care of our children is in fact immensely bonding. Our experience of difficulty altogether is where we come to know ourselves.  

~ Andrew Solomon

Writer Andrew Solomon has a TED talk called Love, no matter what. It’s my favorite TED talk ever, at least a dozen of its 3 million + views are mine. I first listened to it two and a half years ago, during a drive across three state lines with my baby boy sleeping in his carseat in the back of our packed car – we were driving behind my husband’s car, headed to our new home in a new city.

The description of his talk on the TED website reads: “What is it like to raise a child who’s different from you in some fundamental way (like a prodigy, or a differently abled kid, or a criminal)? In this quietly moving talk, writer Andrew Solomon shares what he learned from talking to dozens of parents — asking them: What’s the line between unconditional love and unconditional acceptance?”

I cried as I listened, thinking of Tikva, my daughter who had lived such a short but powerful life. I thought about how, in the 58 days she lived, she taught me my greatest lesson; she taught me about unconditional love and unconditional acceptance. Because I had only to love her as she was, for as much or as little time as I would have with her. Because I had to completely surrender every idea I had had about what she would become, how she would grow up, even that she might survive more than 58 days.

All Tikva needed was my love, pure and present. Unattached. Relinquishing any idea of being able to fix, to rescue, to save her. It was all bigger than me, I was whittled down to my core – and at each of our cores there is only love.

As I listened to Solomon’s words on the headset of my phone, I looked in the rearview mirror at the tiny boy asleep in his 5-point harness, a blanket wrapped around his brand new little body. He had been alive for three months, for just three months he had been my son. I thought about how before those three months I didn’t even know he was coming, I didn’t even know how he would change my life. I thought about how intricately connected he was to Tikva, how her story had become his story, how all of our souls were already intertwined.

I thought about what it would mean, for every year of my life until my very last breath, to raise a son, to raise a black man, to mother a young child again, to be an adoptive parent. To love again. To love unconditionally.

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I think of myself as a resilient person. I have experienced pain. I have sometimes survived and sometimes overcome loss and illness, heartbreak and grief. I have been cracked and stretched in ways that have not always been comfortable. I have grown, hopefully evolved in good ways. I have learned – I continue to learn – about what really matters, and about what I can let go.

After Tikva died, I had such little patience for petty complaints about trivial things (those of others as well as my own). I wanted to make a t-shirt that read, Remember what matters, as a reminder to others and also to myself. When you experience great loss, as you experience the deepest sorrow, the really important things come into the sharpest focus.

Would I be the same person if life had beat me down just a little bit less, if I’d had to put myself back together a few less times? Was I born resilient, or is it something I learned? Where did the optimism I have always seemed to carry come from? Is resilience a gift? Is it something I can teach my children, or will they learn it on their own through their own challenges?

There is comfort in knowing that the challenges have had some value, that out of them I have come to know myself.

Resilience is peaceful. When I allow myself to feel my resilience, I experience calm, acceptance, confidence, trust, strength, hope, wisdom and compassion. Resilience isn’t blind faith; for me it holds the knowledge that, while more shit will surely happen, I have the experience – the resilience, the ability – to get through it.

When I first learned about Tikva’s birth defect 5 months before she was born, almost 8 year ago, I didn’t think I could ever survive losing my child. But there it is – resilience. I survived because I had no other choice. I loved the only way I knew how – completely. I learned to love the only way that is worth loving – unconditionally. No matter what.

My heart cracked open into a million tiny pieces. Each day I recognize and connect with my resilience and I put one more of the pieces back together, polishing the rough edges, re-forming myself into something new, something better. Choosing to thrive.

Isn’t that what we all do, in tiny ways and huge ones? I think this is the opportunity offered by our resilience: Choosing over and over to love – ourselves and others – unconditionally, no matter what.