SK didn't go to work this afternoon. I know this because she called me--all the way across the state--asking me to get on her college's website and give her the phone number of her work. I was more than happy to do this for her, didn't even second guess her decision. In fact, I applauded it. You see, SK was sitting with a friend in an oncologist's office, ready to hold her friend's hand if she needed it, available to drive back across town, in case her friend was too shaky, even hysterical to manage to drive.
I've held a lot of hands in difficult situations, I've listened to friends sob about broken marriages, moms whose kids whose decisions both perplexed and troubled them, held teens who admitted they'd been hurt--in every way imaginable--by a parent who should have only loved and nurtured them. And I've sat with a friend or two while poison dripped into their bodies, poison that was the only long term hope of healing them, even if it seemed to be killing them in the short term. And I've been in the room when a woman heard the word cancer for the first time. But I was in my forties at the time, and my husband was the one who held and cried with that woman, he was the one she reached for--she is his sister. While they cried together, I stood off to the side praying for both of them.
But I have to tell you, when I was SK's age, the most serious thing I ever went through with any of my friends was a painful break-up (and I'm pretty sure it was mine!). I'm awed by the maturity of my twenty-year-old daughter. She gets something it took me a decade or two longer to learn--that the most important thing you can do for someone suffering is simply being there. Holding the hands of someone who's hearing the hardest words one can imagine. SK didn't have any profound words for her friend today. But she didn't need them. Being available, dealing with the practical issues--like driving--so the one hurting doesn't have to think when thinking is beyond a possibility.
I've been thinking a lot about this kind of work recently. The Kingdom-come work of sitting with people in suffering. Most of the time our instinct is to turn our heads away, isn't it? But that turning of our heads is a whole lot like the people who crossed by the side of the road when they saw the man lying in the ditch. Isn't it? Maybe turning our heads toward someone in pain--whether that's physical or any other kind--is the most important, profound thing we ever do. And believe me, I remember a moment in my life when I said, "If I was this hurt physically, rather than emotionally, I'd be in the hospital, maybe even in ICU. Come to think of it, perhaps this is the perfect time to thank all those friends who flew, drove, just came into my room, to sit with me when I needed it most.
SK's friend doesn't have any answers today, but when the day comes--when the surgery happens--I know SK will be sitting in that waiting room, just being there.
I could learn something from that girl of mine.