Showing up, empty-handed

Honestly, you guys, it’s awfully late in the day, late in the week, and oh-so late in the year-long #52for52 project to be trying to come up with anything brilliant and new.

It is my own damn fault. I know this. I haven’t been writing enough, haven’t bothered to turn on the tap and let the cold water run, its scarcity a shock to the eager hand that waits and waves until the water turns warm and soothing, abundant and easy. Until the words start writing themselves.

And still, I promised 48 weeks ago that I would show up here every week, and I did it that way on purpose, because I am not so good at keeping promises that I make only to myself. In the beginning, it was scary, but in a way, not as hard. There was so much to gain, to learn, to try. And there was so little to lose.

Three summers ago, I promised myself that I would learn to play golf. “Nope, I’ve never swung a club,” I told the pro when I showed up at my first lesson. I knew my declaration of inexperience absolved me of any expectation and with it, the vulnerability, the potential for humiliation. And also, I hoped, the effort and frustration I’d watched my husband endure over the years as he doggedly worked to improve his game. Remembering this, I made another promise: that even if I was awful, I would not quit. “I’ve never been much of an athlete,” I would say, doubling down on my expectation game. “My goal is not to be good. My goal is to have fun and, if necessary, to suck.”

I did plenty of both at first, and why wouldn’t it be fun? There was nothing on the line; no one (translation: me) expected much. But as the summers have gone on, and now, with my fourth “summer of golf” getting ready to start, I can feel the expectation creeping in, the disappointment. Shouldn’t I be better by now? Now, my declaration of inexperience so long expired, it doesn’t feel like nearly enough to show up with so little: such disappointing skills, so few signs of the lessons I’ve taken, not much to show for the thousands of balls I’ve hit off the hill in my backyard. Gone is the easy-breezy lets-try-it! fun, the constant laughter of my rookie year. I am less enthusiastic about the whole thing. It sometimes feels downright embarrassing, to be still showing up empty-handed.

I have a couple of friends who are really suffering right now; you probably do, too. There is so little you can do to help a friend going through such a time, and it is so uncomfortable to admit this. I can easily get confused in times like these. I have been known to begin to believe that it is helpful to, say, Google possible solutions for her, make suggestions, and generally just talk too much when the air between us grows thick with grief. I just feel so bad for her. I want to have something to offer. I do not want to be showing up empty-handed.

But it is a real and true fact that all of us have suffered, have been that suffering friend. And while we try not to reflect on that too terribly much, what with the beautiful spring weather finally setting in and all; when we do, we remember that there was very little anyone else could do to make it better. We mostly had to get through it ourselves. It did help—it helped very much-—when someone who loved you found a way to show up, and usually they were empty handed. Having their hands free made it possible for them to have your back, take your side, bring you coffee, pick up your kids. Hand you tissues while you did the ugly cry until snot ran into your mouth. And, gesturing wildly, make you laugh at the moment when you were secretly beginning to believe that you might never, ever laugh again.

Sometimes, when I don’t have a decent gift to bring to the party, I begin to think maybe I just won’t go. When I don’t have anything to say, I tend to put off making the call. And when I don’t have anything to write, I wonder what difference it could possibly make if I skipped a week, when it doesn’t really matter, when it’s only a promise I made to myself.

I do think it matters. And so, for you, dear readers, for my golf teacher (can you imagine?), for my suffering friends, and mostly, perhaps, for myself, this is my message on this 48th week: Hello. It’s me. I am not sure I have much to offer today. I am terribly empty handed, which anyone with any manners knows is against the rules. It feels very uncomfortable and terribly inadequate. But I’m here, because I said I would be. I’m just showing up.

#52for52 (48/52)

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