Sometimes, life delivers you a wake-up call that you simply can’t ignore.
It shakes you right to your core, stirs up your brain, moves your soul, and finally releases all the emotions you’ve been desperately hiding deep down for who knows how long, even cleverly shielding yourself from them.
For me, this happened the other day.
A Powerful Visit
I was visiting one of my good friends, someone I love very dearly, when she confessed that her depression has recently returned, but this time, it’s far worse than it’s ever been before.
She simply isn’t functioning properly anymore. She’s lost all sense of purpose, and just feels completely empty and hopeless.
Simple tasks that used to be easy and fun have turned into painstaking nightmares. Making decisions, even about the most mundane things, has become nearly impossible.
I know what this feeling is like. I’ve been to a bad place before, and it’s not somewhere you want to hang out for long.
Though my experience of the void may have been different, I could relate to the hollowness I heard in her voice, and I could see the pain reflected in her expression. It’s not a place I would wish on anyone.
As I sat there on the floor in front of her, listening to her talk about it, my heart absolutely broke for her — and for me. I hated to see her in so much pain, and wanted desperately to be able to make it better, to fix it. Even as she spoke, my mind was searching for answers.
But then I heard something inside tell me to stop thinking and just listen.
Intuitively, I knew there was nothing I could do except listen, be there for her, and most of all, love her. When I heard that voice, I instinctively moved closer to her and put my hand on hers. I let go of all external distractions, and gave her my undivided attention. I rubbed her arm, held her hand, and just sat there, crying with her.
The Lesson Within
I knew that as painful as this moment was, I was being shown something. The universe was right there with me, opening my eyes wide, telling me to pay attention.
This, right here, is what matters, it told me. This person, whom you love so much it could break your heart right open, is struggling. She needs you.
She’s been struggling for a long time, but nobody seemed to notice. She didn’t realize just how far gone she was, either. She didn’t know until she sought help that she couldn’t get herself out of this one alone.
This is the danger of being so caught up and brainwashed by our culture of “busyness is king.”
In our haste to do all these things that don’t matter, we let the people that do matter slip away.
We aren’t there for them when they need us most. We’re distant and disconnected to the point that we don’t even notice when they’re not themselves.
They’re battling demons we know nothing about, and the sad thing is, we don’t take the time to ask them how they’re doing.
I don’t mean the Coles Notes version of “How’s it going?” “Good! Really busy! You?” I mean really asking them — the version where we make the time to spend with someone special, where we put away distractions, and where we lend an ear and a helping hand if we can.
Time to Look in the Mirror
Hearing this person’s story really shook me, because I didn’t know the extent to which they were suffering, for one, but also because it forced me to take a deeper look at myself, and the way I’ve been living.
I’d been taking the little time I did have with her lately completely for granted.
I’d been rushing home to get more work done or buy groceries or do some other stupid little task instead of sticking around to have dinner or watch a movie together.
I’d been caught up in my own little world, wrapped up in my own life, stressing out about my endless thoughts and following the rabbit hole of where I imagined each one eventually led. Meanwhile, most (if not all) of those trains of thought led nowhere important.
I’d been so self-absorbed lately that I’d been neglecting someone who means the world to me.
All in a single moment, Christmas decorations and dinners and clean houses and stockings and presents and shopping and to-do lists suddenly didn’t seem to matter at all. Not one little bit.
As much as I usually love these holiday traditions, I’d give them all up in an instant if it meant seeing a genuine smile again on that face I love so much.
What Really Matters
If there’s one thing I’ve learned this Christmas, it’s to hold on to the ones we love through it all — their highs, their lows, and their plateaus.
We can’t fix anyone else’s problems or make them change their lives for the better. We can’t force them to get help, to take action, or to keep pushing forward. We can’t even make them decide not to give up. That power and responsibility lies within each of us, and we are each charged with the task of caring for ourselves however we see fit.
What we can do, though, is love them.
Sometimes, the best gift we can give truly is an open ear, our undivided attention, a tight hug, or an “I love you.”
This lesson is a beautiful gift that I’ll never forget, and one I hope to carry forward with me throughout the rest of my life.
What are some special gifts you’ve experienced or given?
Add to my list in the comments below.