Who's Beside You When You're Facing the Fire?

How was your first Monday of the year?

I don’t know about you, but today feels like the real first day of 2019. It’s the start of a week without any half days or holidays.

This week is a wide-open mouth to the new year.


My first Monday was better than I expected but in order to explain just how Monday, this Monday was, I need to begin with the end of last week.

Friday was tough for me. Just horrific. I’m not a supporter of Facebook Vague-booking, but to respect the privacy of others, I cannot release specific details about why my Friday was beyond miserable. But I will tell you that something happened – and I hoped against all levels of hope -- that it must have been a gross misunderstanding and unfortunate break-down in communication. The whole event left me feeling humiliated, devalued and unworthy. I felt cast aside. Good God it hurt. It was that awful stinging sensation where it feels like electricity was running through my chest. I was in shock. I spent the rest of my afternoon and evening ping-ponging between rage and shame.

On Saturday, I traveled without my husband and kids to meet my sisters in the North Carolina mountains for the memorial service of a close family friend. The Cherokee woman who passed was more than a friend, she was family – like a cousin maybe – she was extraordinary.

In the early 1950's, our mothers were in nurses training together and they’ve been friends ever since. Nearly 67 years. Their lives mirrored one another. Each of them was married almost the same length of time before they lost their husbands to different types of cancer. Each of them had three daughters. We may not have been related by blood but were most certainly connected by heart. The memorial was a moving tribute to our friend who was young and vibrant, a relentless advocate for all things just, and a talented artist. Remarkably, her final works were purchased by the Smithsonian.

Her early death rattled me.

After the service, I had dinner with my mom and sisters. Our lives, normally separated by miles and different states, joined as we ate together and reconnected. Isn’t it amazing how births, weddings and deaths bring people together? It’s a reminder of how life gently nudges us to connect when we can.

I explained how awful my Friday was. How humiliated I was. I admitted that my complaint seemed even worse now and it embarrassed me to share it with them today, of all days, considering we had just said goodbye to our friend. I told them the unfortunate series of events and they listened to the story. I couldn’t help but notice the motion of our eating felt decelerated. It was like our table and the air around us was encased in gelatin. I would drag my fork over the crab meat and flounder. One sister would use her finger to catch the condensation from her water glass, the other would move the centerpiece and dish filled with pats of butter just so, out of the way. They were listening. They were hearing me. I needed their advice and I needed their presence and they gave me all of it.

One of the honest benefits of confiding in your sisters is that they won’t tell you what you want to hear. They will lovingly tell you what you need to hear. It wasn’t easy listening to their view of my awful, terrible Friday. Some of it I didn’t want to hear, but it helped me to look at the situation from another angle and appreciate that my lens was not the same lens of the other person. My perception doesn’t necessarily align with their position. My truth may not be their truth. It was a powerful conversation and I was grateful to my sisters for it.

I drove the three hours home and thought about everything they had said. It was late when I got home so I kissed my husband, hugged my teenagers – surprisingly they allowed the affection -- and collapsed into bed. I was asleep in seconds.

Sunday morning, I woke up and determined I needed a full day of rest. A day of absolutely nothing and zero requirement to accomplish, check off or plan. I wanted to not worry about anything for an entire day. I wanted to empty my mind from the frustrations of Friday and my sister’s solutions from Saturday. I wanted to just – be. I needed to let go of it all and allow things to settle. I wanted to amble around the aisles of a local antique mall and just get lost in all the curiosities of the booths. My husband enjoys the search for vintage oddities, so I asked him to join me. I needed him to be with me. He knows he helps center me, so I needed this time with him. We talked and strolled and explored the problems in a relaxed, nonjudgmental way. I was able to talk about the issues without extreme emotions. I was settled. I was discovering how I felt, but also considered how the other person may have perceived what happened. It was peaceful. Even though Friday was contentious, Saturday and Sunday waves were smoothing it over.

That’s when I found this print.

It was tucked behind an old radio and ceramic figurines and it captured me as soon as I saw it. The couple dressed in their finery appear sad – the woman more so than him. She seems melancholy and thoughtful. Maybe he’s being comforting and supportive. They stare into the fire in a modest cabin and hold each other. Something has happened. We don’t know what it is or why the artist felt compelled to capture it, but I was captivated. The longer I looked at the print, the more I wanted to come inside their home. I wanted to sit on the floor near the hearth and ask what was troubling her. Before I realized it, I felt a cold tear slip off my cheek. My husband moved beside me and studied the print. He told me to get it. He said it speaks to you – get it. I set it back on the shelf and said, I love it. I really do. The woman looks so sad, but not today.

So, this brings me to my first Monday of the new year. The misunderstanding I thought I had with the other person found brilliant clarity and the problem I thought I had disappeared. The person had not had a change of heart. All is well and I am grateful that what I thought was bad turned out to be just as it should be.

I was so happy that found myself driving back to the antique store. I bought the print I found yesterday. The woman in the painting will always remind me that sadness and melancholy will come and go but staring into a fire beside people who’ll weather life’s storms make it all worthwhile.