On Just One Thing

One friend in a storm is worth more than a thousand friends in sunshine.

Matshona Dhliwayo

The past few days have been pretty bleak. The pandemic is raging unchecked outside my door, and work has again come to a halt while we shelter in place. We hit a wall, and we all retreated to our private sanctuaries to try to regain our bearings. But even with our measures, it’s entered into the home of one of my team. Death. Their loss is our loss, as we are a family. We grieve together. It’s a difficult situation where we cannot offer comfort in person; we are huggers, and words can only convey so much emotion between us. Today I had the task of offering my team some moral support, but even to my ears I was a tired defeated voice on the line, raw with emotion. I can always gauge the stress level of the group by the amount of inappropriate joking; these days, there’s only the rare quip that makes me have to google “Urban dictionary” to figure out what they are talking about.

There are moments in all relationships, from acquaintances to friends to family, where the situation either crumbles or strengthens it. These moments are often tense and at times it is tempting to just let them pass by, because bringing them into the open means something precious can be lost. Is it such a “big deal” that it needs to be acknowledged even with the risk of loss? Or is the moment like a gentle wave that will roll over with minimal impact if left unchecked? Often we have to quickly decide which path to take, without the luxury of all the facts. In these cases, gut instinct can be a reliable guide. And at times, if we allow the wave to pass us this time, the wave could grow to be a tsunami. The pandemic had just put myself and a valued friend in a place where what was happening could change lives and we had to take action. But what?

Now many people who know me will say that perhaps I say too much. Pick at things until I get satisfaction. It is my nature to be curious and seek order from chaos, to find solutions to problems; how can that be done unless we take the puzzle pieces, sort them and look at them in the light, and try them here or there until we find the fit? And I can be relentless. It’s surprising as most of my life I didn’t say much, in fact shied away from confrontation, that today I often say something. However, there is an art to communication that I still struggle to learn, never mind master. It’s a skill I admire in others, and the person I was speaking to had it in spades. But sometimes, all the niceties in the world can’t cover the truth, and it was that which I voiced. As the saying goes—the road to hell is paved with good intentions. What I said could be taken as an insult that would undermine a valuable friendship, but was meant to say “I respect you, I know you can do this, but I see the possible negative impact on you if you do this, so I can do this for you, let me take the fall, I’ve got your back.” As I waited with bated breath to see how it was received, I turned over in my mind if there was any other way to say what I said. I do not have many phrases that one would call “polished,” and under duress I tend to resort to the most basic words. And this, this was a raw, tense moment in which lives, our lives, our loved ones, could be hanging in the balance.

“You know I’ve been through a lot of crap that belies my whimsical persona, Vic. I know rough more than pleasant. I’m good yin for your yang.”

“I know. Grit doesn’t come from rainbows and unicorn rides. I didn’t mean to insult you. I want you to know I think highly of you and I’ve got your back.”

“That was tough for me too. Thanks for going along that miserable road with me.”

And now we are Batman and Robin.