Monday, March 13, 2006

It Takes a Care

Writers are usually an empathetic and helpful lot. I’ve always tried to be helpful to new writers who find my name in the phone book or on the Internet and contact me to ask how they might get started – even the one who called me the other morning at 3 a.m. thinking she would get an office voice mail. I helped her because I had been there, in the middle of the night, with a desire to get a story on paper so strong that I couldn’t sleep.
Empathy is what makes us truly appreciate being in another person’s shoes. Bertie Daw and I know each other from the Kansas City Writers Group and more recently, from a board of a literary organization to which we both served. We talk at the groups, and exchange funny (and often times not so funny) emails on the country’s current political situation. But we had never socialized at any function outside of our writing community.
Last week, when I dropped my board service, citing the need to finalize going through the remainder of my mother’s belongings after she moved to a senior center and then needing more time for her care, I immediately got a note from Bertie asking what she could do to help me. In short, she spent the better part of a Saturday morning helping me sort through my mother’s family room and craft workshop, getting things ready for sale. Bertie has severe allergies, but that didn’t even stop her from forging ahead in a room that had sat virtually untouched since my mother’s heart attack two years ago. While we were working, Bertie explained that she had been there for her father and for her stepmother in their golden years’ as they grew old and sick. She knew the emotional, as well as the physical and financial toll of the situation. She had the help of her family and through her experience, she learned that it does indeed, take a village.
A few weeks ago, Marli Murphy wrote about this very subject in The Kansas City Star. She wound the theory around a friend who was taking on the care of an elderly parent. Twenty years ago, I probably would never have read the column, being too young to even comprehend the day when my mother would be old enough to need care. Ten years ago, I might have glanced at it. Five years ago, I probably would have read it with the dread that I knew it would happen sooner than I hoped. A month or so ago, I read it knowing I was in the middle of it. The experience has me already feeling empathy for others in the same situation. It has made me appreciate even more the concept of “it takes a village,” not just in mentoring writers, but also in living life. We will all need help in at least one situation in our lives. Taking on the care of elderly parents is one of those times.
When Bertie left my mother’s home, the last one in which my mother will ever hold a family dinner, decorate elaborately for the holidays or create any of her crafts, she thanked me for having her over. At first I thought that was a joke, but she was sincere. “It was a good experience. I feel like I got to know your mother a little by being here,” she said. “A creative person who enjoys the holidays.”
I smiled because only a writer or another creative would look at spending part of a Saturday going through someone else’s dirty basement like that. And only someone who knows first hand that it takes a village would have come in the first place.
I will indeed, try harder to pay it forward.