A while ago…

I’m sitting in Jennifer’s kitchen–at her breakfast bar–in her house an hour from mine. A house I’ve been to a few times before, but never this late. Six hours earlier I’d called her from the road, something I’d never done before. 

I need a room for the night. 

The door will be open. Come on. She didn’t even ask why.

I end up getting there around 10:30pm. Late. 

I’m exhausted. Drained. Bewildered. 

We’ve just spent an hour talking in her basement living room. Wrapped up in blankets on the couch. Because Minnesota is cold in February.

My eyes are puffy and raw. My thoughts racing and, at the same time, numb. How can thoughts be numb? Because, let me reiterate, Minnesota is cold in February. It gets inside your gray matter.

Midnight approaches. Please God, end this day. 

I can’t remember the last time I ate, so Jennifer is taking out sandwich fixings as I watch. I am an empty shell of ache and despair ready to fold in on myself at any minute. I watch with dead eyes as she takes out bread, turkey, mayo and mustard. Looking back I think she even offered to cut off the crusts. She’s a mom. I get this. Her tall teenage son wanders in and we have polite small talk at midnight. Even this small attempt at forced politeness is difficult. I’m so lifeless I’m barely conscious.

She hands me the sandwich and I chew like a robot. Jennifer decides to make me a care package for the next day–it will be a long one. Another sandwich, two small “cutie” oranges, two granola bars and a couple bottles of water in a brown paper bag.

[Hospitals are remarkably dry, I think to myself the next day as a gulp down the water.]

Half of my sandwich gone, it occurs to me that I’m being taken care of. Me–the person who is strong and steady and always in control.

I manage a small audible chuckle and say, “I’m usually the one making the sandwiches.”

Without missing a beat and with her trademark quick wit–rare in these passive-aggressive Midwestern parts–she gives me my new life mantra:

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Being willing to help is how most of us are wired. There’s pride in stepping into a crisis and taking charge. A certain satisfaction in making things better for others even if our lives are in chaos. We like to be thanked and admired for our actions, acknowledged in public or private for a job well done. We’re used to doing the bandaging, not being bandaged.

We’re used to being ok all the time and, guess what? Sometimes we’re just not ok.

Brave friends make us sit down, shut up and eat. Take the sandwich now, honey, so you can make sandwiches later.