“The willingness to show up changes us. It makes us a little braver each time.”Bréne Brown
Near midnight December 10th, a powerful tornado tore through an area of Western Kentucky, destroying homes a quarter-mile from where my childhood friend Michele’s mom lives. With sudden, devastating loss like this, our natural inclination is to help, but we often get stuck wondering how to do that.
Michele lives a few hours East of Mayfield, KY, herself. She shared: “When I realized there had been a tornado, I just wanted to do something. You want to help people but don’t really know what to do, so, we just went there to help a friend of a friend.”
She and her husband took time off from work to help remove debris from the damaged rooms in the friend’s home, and also to offer support to residents of Mayfield. While these were people she had never met before, and may never see again, Michele recognized the value in “being there for each other.” She shared that many people she met in Mayfield needed to sit and grieve. With others there to bear witness to their losses, they may have found their burden ease just a little.
In early January, destructive fires from Colorado to the East Coast dominated headlines, and most of us feel empathy for those who are suffering when we hear about it. But much closer to home for me, I awoke Tuesday morning to a text from a longtime local friend sharing that her house had been largely destroyed by an electrical fire that started at a neighbor’s, quickly spreading to neighboring townhomes, and leading to the loss of nearly all of her worldly belongings and her two beloved cats. Words of comfort and supportive action quickly arrived from near and far. One neighbor offered up her father’s vacant apartment so my friend and her son could have some space to process their emotions and begin the tangle of paperwork that accompanies such a loss. Another neighbor took in the surviving cat, miraculously found alive underneath a laundry basket behind a mound of debris.
While there will be many tangible big ways to help support my friend’s recovery process in the coming months, small gestures–like texts, emails and phone calls–help her realize she’s not alone. When I happened to share the news of this fire with a colleague, she told me that decades earlier she too had lost many of her belongings in a home fire. What she remembered most was her boss, a woman always impeccably dressed in the latest fashions, had shown up a few days after the fire with a box of office-ready clothes for my colleague. She knew not to ask my proud friend ‘What can I do?’ Instead, the boss took a very thoughtful action that was still being remembered and appreciated all these years later.
I was reminded that helping isn’t always about doing something big or inspired, but instead, the most important thing really is to be a friend by showing up. So, I packed up a few magazines, spare winter gloves and scarves, some dark chocolate, and then headed over to bear witness with my friend.