About twelve years ago, I was working as a social worker and grief therapist for Hospice. I drove quite a bit with my job, making home visits. At the time I was driving my Granny’s car, a Mercury Grand Marquis, that my cousin had given me when I needed it most. It was on one sunny summer afternoon that I got a flat tire driving towards Perry on South Houston Lake Road, on my way to see a dear, sweet patient. I did what all good Southern girls do in such a fix. I called my Daddy.
He, Mama, and Auburn loaded up in their car and headed out to get me. Daddy changed my tire on the side of the road, a precarious task. He had me up and going fairly quickly. Auburn was tickled to see me “on my job,” and told the story for years of “when we rescued Mama.”
It was nearly a year ago, as I sat with a group of women at our book group that I got a call from Mama. She rarely used her cell phone so I knew something was wrong. “Tara, I have a flat tire. I don’t know how it happened. These tires are brand new. Can you call the tire company, and ask him if he has roadside service?”
I called and they didn’t. Then I called Mama’s insurance agent and asked if they had it. They did, but she’d have to call someone to repair it on her own. I called Mama back.
“Okay, I can do that.”
“Mama, I’m going to come out there,” I told her. She refused, said there was no need, that she would be fine.
As this was the first time that something like this had happened since before Daddy got sick, I could not bear the thought of her being alone. So I headed over there. It took me a few minutes to find where she actually was, because as Mama admitted herself, she had no sense of direction.
When I got there, I called the mechanic as she hadn’t been able to get anyone. We sat and waited together for the guy to come. I could see Mama’s memory wheel churning and the tears she was holding back. So we just sat. Finally, the mechanic came and made quick work of changing the tire. He was efficient and kind, suggesting what we should do next about getting the flat fixed and switched back out with the spare. I told Mama I would follow her to the tire company. She said no, and then acquiesced but said, “You lead me there. I’m not quite sure the best route to go.” So off we went. It turned out to be a good day. Because it was going to take the repairs a couple of hours, we got a surprise lunchtime visit with Maemae at our house. We just made a day of it. A good memory, despite its rocky start.
I was thinking about both these flat tires tonight on my way home from Macon. Not because I had one or was even concerned about having one. I had the unexpected gift tonight of laughter and sharing stories with a treasured friend, and on the way home my mind drifted for some reason to that day with the tire. I thought about how Daddy fixed my tire. And how I couldn’t fix Mama’s, but I wanted to go be with her anyway. What would I have done if Daddy couldn’t have fixed mine? Truth is, I still would have called him. I think the greatest thing he did that day was show up. Knowing that he, Mama, and Aub were on their way settled my uneasiness. Even though Mama told me not to come, when I did show up she was visibly relieved.
It hit me tonight that I don’t always have the right words to say to someone in every situation. Sometimes the words just do not exist. So what I can do? Show up. I’ve learned this from the folks who have shown up for us during sunshine and dark days. Maybe it hasn’t always been physically–it might be an e-mail, or a phone call, or a cup of coffee delivered with a note written on the side. It doesn’t matter how they’ve shown up, it has only mattered that I no longer felt alone in that moment. The showing up says, “You matter. You are worth it. You are loved.”
Tonight I’m thankful for folks who have shown up. Whether for flat tires or to hold my hand as I said goodbye. To celebrate a milestone for my daughter or to sit with me as I handle the legal mumbo jumbo that follows losing folks you love. I am thankful for those who show up and share laughter and stories over a bowl of salsa and a basket of chips, or who listen and love over a cup of coffee. For those who show up sharing their gifts unselfishly and making a difference in my world, I am very grateful. They inspire me to pay it forward.
Mama always said that we help each other divide our sorrows and multiply our joys. That’s good math I can live with right there. And use. Everyday.