I recently had a touching and somewhat poignant experience. For all of us who are alone (or for me anyway), we wonder what’s going to happen ‘later’ in life. If you’re alone, what if things go wrong, and you have no partner to protect you and share the experience with you? It’s a scary thought, and part of the musical chairs of life, where some of us wind up alone. You make a false move, make a bad decision about the person you marry, or make a good decision, and destiny intervenes. And the next thing you know you’re alone at a time in life when you didn’t want to be, and never thought it would happen to you. Who knows, I may find the right person to share my life with again one day before the dance is over. But for now, I am ‘alone’. I have a million wonderful children, but I am still the person who takes care of them, and I don’t expect them to take care of me, or be with me in tough situations. They have their own lives to lead, and now I have mine, (gulp) alone. It strikes me hardest whenever I’ve ended up in an emergency room. When you’re married, it’s an easy question to answer when you read the line on the form about who to call in an emergency. My kids were really too young to call until recently, and I don’t want to be a pest or a burden to them, so for several years now, I have put down my assistant’s name and number, which always makes my heart ache a little. And looking down the road to all the things that could happen in years to come is scary. Not just medically, but all those tough moments, and decisions one has to make in life. What happens when you find yourself in one of those situations and have to face it alone? As my kids would say, it sucks. But there it is, sometimes that’s how it happens, and when I think about it, it concerns me.
With all the recent turmoil and upheaval in the world, banks have folded, the stock market has plummeted, and I think none of us are totally sure we can rely on the institutions we once did. They are fallible, and if they fail, we could be in big trouble. In light of that, my attorneys recently suggested that I check out other banks to compare with my own. (I hate dealing with stuff like that. How do I know who is telling me the truth, which institution is sound, and if I have the right one? It’s easy to be wooed away by another institution, but are they any good?). I put off doing anything about it for as long as I could, and finally agreed to a meeting at another bank, just to hear what they had to say, for informational purposes. And as I prepared for the meeting, I hated the bad decisions I have made in my life, and the bad luck, that have wound me up without a partner. Figuring out what bank is the safest is something I would love a husband to do—I don’t feel competent to make those choices. You can hand me 400 pages of blank paper, and I have no trouble turning it into a good story that will keep people turning pages. But hand me an insurance form, anything from a bank, or any kind of official form, and my mind goes blank and turns into jello. I know that sounds stupid, and I’m not dumb, but I just hate red tape and officialdom, and my mind turns into ‘white noise’ and I cant even hear what’s being said. Traditionally, in my upbringing and experience, choosing the right bank should be made by a husband, and instead, since I no longer have one, I have to make that decision myself. And what if I make the wrong choice of bank? And even if once happily married, women who wind up widowed, at any age, have to learn to make these decisions too. It’s not as easy as you’d think (particularly if you have a partner who does it for you).
A few days before the meeting, my lawyer called me, a wonderful woman who is also a dear friend, one of my two closest friends. And the other closest friend called me too, since she is the one I’d always planned to leave my kids to if anything happened to me. They both invited me to lunch before the meeting, and I happily accepted the invitation. And they both offered to come to the meeting with me. Both are professional women, both are smart, creative, married and have kids. And I was thrilled to have them come along, although the bank decision would ultimately be mine. But I loved the idea of having company when I got there, and dreaded the meeting. And maybe it would only be an information meeting, and nothing more would come of it.
Lunch with my two women friends was great fun, as it always is on the rare times when we meet for lunch together (maybe once or twice a year?) all three of us are busy, have jobs and lives and families and too little time to hang out together, and sometimes even too little time to call each other. But I always know they’re there, as I am for them. It’s nice to know.
After lunch, we walked to the meeting a few blocks away. And as we approached the building, I could feel my mind turning to mush. It was the kind of meeting that I knew would make me feel ignorant and uninformed, and probably overwhelmed. We were met by a smooth team who made an efficient presentation. I always want to laugh hysterically at meetings like that. It’s so embarrassingly grown up. Are they really talking to me? And on top of it, their presentations are so polished that I can’t figure out what’s sincere, and it is delivered in the jargon of the business world, which I’m not involved in, so I don’t understand half of what they’re saying. Do people really talk like that? I guess they do, but not in my daily life. (Writing a book, I try to make things simple and clear for people, and easy to understand. In business, people talk in terms I don’t understand, in a language I don’t speak, in order to impress one with how important they are. But what are they saying??). I felt about 5 years old, as I squirmed in my chair, felt overwhelmed as I feared I would, and couldn’t wait for it to be over. (Like a kid in church, is it over yet? can we go? I’m hungry…I have to go to the bathroom…I want a drink of water). I hated being in that grown up seat as the object of “A Presentation”. I’m sure they were trying to impress me, but I just wanted to hide in the corner and put a blanket over my head, and have someone tell me when it was over, and translate what they said. Oh good, we can leave now. The presentation was great, I got useful information, with which to make informed decisions. But it confused me anyway. What if I make the wrong decision? What if they’re lying? What if I screw everything up? What if I just don’t know enough to make a good decision? I hate dealing with stuff like that. And it was incredibly comforting having my two friends in the room. They said very little. I made silly nervous awkward remarks, and just felt stupid, and wanted to go home. But I’d look across the table and there they were, the two women who are my friends. I’m not sure if they understood more about the presentation than I did, or are any smarter, but the major point for me was that they were there, I was not alone, I had support and company and their love and friendship. The rest was just a presentation, in a language I barely speak,”business-ese”. I speak four languages, but business-ese just isn’t one of them.
We finally left the presentation, and the presenters were all very nice people. I am in awe of their seeming competence. I couldn’t do what they do, but they probably couldn’t turn 400 blank pages into a good story. So I guess we all have our jobs and talents.
And in the elevator on the way down, I had an epiphany. (appropriately, the meeting had been held on a high floor, with ceiling to floor windows, for a dazzling view, except that I’m afraid of heights, it gave me vertigo as I stayed as far away as possible from the view, and it just heightened the anxiety for me, instead of impressing me. It just made it even scarier for me). But in the elevator after the meeting, suddenly I realized something…..that my two friends had come with me, that I was not alone, that I didn’t need a husband or a partner for a meeting like this, I had them. And since the meeting wasn’t about decisions they had to make, they were probably less scared, and heard it all more clearly than I did, and I could discuss it with them later. They were there. That was the essence of it for me. I no longer had to have a partner to put on the emergency line in the ER form (although it would be nice, but I don’t HAVE to have that, and my life won’t fall apart if I don’t). If my friends will come to a bank meeting with me, then I’m not alone. Someone else doesn’t have to fill out the forms, I can do it, and I can talk to my friends. And even if they don’t say a word in a meeting, they were sitting there like grown ups, while I felt like a kid with her parents, talking to the principal of a new school. I have friends!!!! I wanted to shout as I came out of the building. I can do this!!! I’m not as alone as I feared for the yucky grown up stuff. I suddenly realized that having friends is invaluable, and that these two women are there for me. They came to the meeting, sat there, listened, and saw me through it, and eventually I will ask them what they thought (when my stomach stops doing double flips about it). But for the first time ever, looking down the path to the future, instead of being panicked and thinking I can’t do it all alone, I realized that I can, and my friends will be there for me, these two kind, loyal, loving women who were at the bank meeting with me….and I am there for them too. (I could act like an adult at their bank meeting, just not my own). I wanted to shout, “I can do this!!! I CAN!” instead of the frightened voice in my head in the past that said “I can’t do this alone”. With friends like those two loving women there for me, yes, I can!!!