Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Not as weak as you'd think

One of my earliest literary influences was Ernest Hemingway. I can't quite put my finger on why, as he was a hard-living, hard-drinking guy whose life trajectory was about as far from mine - think boring-suburban-husband-and-dad - as you can imagine.

Yet when this guy wrote, words came alive. He could draw a scene more vividly than any ascot-wearing, HD-equipped filmmaker or brush-wielding Renaissance-era painter. His work proved to me that writing was as much an art as any other discipline, and it continues to bring me both comfort and inspiration to this day.

In any case, this past week has been one filled with success and sadness. While I continue to score wins on the editorial and media front, my routine was interrupted today with a call from a good friend who had just found out his dad, a man who probably could give Mr. Hemingway a robust run for his money, is sick. Cancer. Just as "heart attack" and "bypass surgery" forever changed our lives when our father first entered hospital just over 13 years ago, I knew my friend's life had just taken a significant turn.

I said what I felt, shared pieces of my own experience and tried to help him focus on the things that he could control. I don't think I succeeded, but I know we'll be having more such discussions in the weeks ahead so I'll have plenty of opportunities to get it right. In the meantime, this quote from Mr. Hemingway stuck in my head for some reason, and I think it's appropriate to share tonight:
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places."
Sadly, the man who pieced these resonant words together never had the chance to prove himself right. But I'd like to think that my friend's father will. As will my friend, who now finds himself learning a whole new language as he figures out how to be there for his dad.

Your turn: So...what do you say in cases like this?


Kalei's Best Friend said...

What u told him was good... I know from what I learned from being in almost the same shoes, that the person who has passed on would not want their loved ones dwelling on them.. To carry on w/their life, to accept, in time, what has happened and not to question why... I do believe there is a reason for everything in life.. I do know why I became a widow at 47... It may not be true to others but for me I figured it out and I am at peace w/it... It all has to do w/coming to terms and being at peace... I would tell your friend that there will be moments, years go by and the pain lessens and sometimes for no reason the waterworks turn on.. Every year around May, I would be super sensitive, so would my girls and they had not a clue till a friend explained it to me.. We were experiencing the death of losing someone.. it was around the anniversary of when my spouse was taken... The physical effects of experiencing shock..I do feel my husband still looks down on us... Its something that is unexplained... This may sound trite, but journaling helps, writing letters to my husband helps...Anyway I hope this makes sense to you..

Tim Keen said...

I think that those of us who write or aspire to write pay too much attention to what is said on television and in books during times of crisis. Almost all of the things you read that sound so fantastic are either out and out fiction designed to move the reader up front or are somewhat overstated in order to make the writer look good to his reader. In either case, it is not exactly real world.

You have already done the most important thing you can do. It was in your first sentence when you started talking to him.

I got a call from a friend...

You were there to pick up that phone. Just being there is enough. Your friend will fill in the blanks of what he needs with the future calls. As long as you pick up that phone and listen, all will be well.

Tim from Kentucky

Karine said...

I think you did the right thing. The best thing you can do is be there for people in times like that. Be there to listen to them, ask them what you can do for them and continue sharing your experience with them so they don't feel like they're alone in their struggle.

Ginny Hartzler said...

Words aren't as important as listening, hand holding, crying with someone, and just being there. Don't ask what you can do, just DO it.

SY said...

I don't know what you can say in a situation like this.. Putting yourself in someone else shoes isn't the same as standing up and walking around in them for a while.

You can just be an ear..YOur friend will understand.

Yvonne said...

I really like that quote. It spoke volumes to me! I think you did the right thing and share with your friend your experience and also, let them know that you were there if they need you. -In times like this, it is always difficult to know just the right thing to say. You just want to comfort them somehow. And I believe you did that.

Jeremiah Andrews said...

My best friend got cancer a few months ago, whilst on vacation. Breast cancer. Surgery was necessary, and it was terrible.

We spoke every day, and we still do, cancer is the shit, and not only takes mentally, it takes emotionally. She is not the same woman I knew just a few months ago.

What do you say? I can be there and I can try to make time slow down. I can listen. And I can just be.

I knew what to say before the surgery, but now post surgery, I am at a loss for words. I am not a woman and I haven't lost a body part.

But I do have a terminal disease which is kept in check by massive meds. At least I have something in common.

We may not survive our diseases and we may loose the battle, the KEY is to make the most of time between NOW and THEN.


21 Wits said...

Ah Hemmingway, Henry Miller and V. Woolf all with great thoughts, but every now and then you stumble upon a no name, and she speaks for me through her poem. For me it's the people in my life that hold me up, especially through hard times. I believe this poem shares that. taken from "Soulwork" Open my heart, that I may see, visions of good You have for me. Open my heart that I may hear, Your love and wisdom guiding me clearly. Open my heart that I may feel, all that is true, all that is real. Open my heart that I may know, what I must do and where I must go. Open my heart that I may be, whatever, in love, You want me to be. by Bettyclare Moffatt

supermac said...

this is a beautiful, moving post. it makes me want to pick my dusty hemingways from my bookshelf and read him again.

MB said...

I never know what to say in these situations so I usually just shut up, listen and offer support and a shoulder to cry on.

Jaimee_Bridges said...

I don't think you can say much unless you have been there. It's like the dead dads club-- you can't be in it and you can't understand unless it's happened to you. So, what do you do? You pray like hell. Because somewhere up there, there's a God who understands.

Mojo said...

I never really know what to say. Lending experience strength and hope is about the best we can do at a time like this, so that's what I aim for. Absent a similar experience, I try keep in mind something my father once told me. "You have two ears and one mouth."

Sometimes the only thing left to say is "I'm still here."