Too big to pass

A thoughtful friend sent these flowers on New Year's Eve, 2015. She knew this season was a difficult one for us, so she sent bright flowers to cheer us.

A thoughtful friend sent these flowers on New Year’s Eve, 2015.
She knew this season was a difficult one for us, so she sent bright flowers to cheer us.

“Trouble is a sieve through which we sift our acquaintances. Those too big to pass through are our friends.”Arlene Francis

There are all kinds of reasons why trouble tends to isolate us from others.  Many long to reach out to people in difficulty, but find it emotionally taxing to be present during the trials of others.  We may be too sensitive, haunted by sadness after spending time with those who are less fortunate.  Or maybe we have more than enough problems of our own, and thus feel overwhelmed in the face of suffering or crisis in others’ lives.

Often, too, the experience of trouble can change us, making us less reliable, less agreeable or harder to tolerate, thus driving away former or potential friends.  I speak from experience here. I feel as if the past three years have left me ill-equipped to have much to give to anyone, even in my immediate family.  A significant percentage of the time, I feel exhausted, irritable and negative.  Other times I long to retreat to a quiet room and just be by myself with a book or some music. While this solitude is essential and beneficial in reasonable doses, it’s not a recipe for making or keeping friends.

Fortunately, I am blessed to know many who understand these facets of struggle.  Most of you who have been here with me, through all of the ups and downs of the past three (or thirty!) years, have been through various seasons of loss yourselves.  You know, seemingly by instinct, what to do; how to remain loyal and supportive even when doing most of the “give” in the give-and-take that constitutes friendship.

To all of you, my heartfelt thanks. Whether your bouquets have been composed of literal flowers (such as pictured above) or of loving thoughts, prayers, cards and other tokens of support and affection, please know that your presence and kindness make a crucial difference in helping me get through each day, and week, and month.

If you are facing any sort of trouble right now, I wish for you some golden people who are too full of love to pass through that sieve. “Big” is not a description most of us would choose for ourselves, but in the sense that Francis intends in the quote for today, I hope we all experience the joy of knowing– and being– people who are too big to pass through the net of circumstance that separates true friends from acquaintances.

28 Comments

  1. Ann

    Dear Julia, you bring joy and solace to so many of us; l hope today brings you a full measure of both!
    Your blog provides a much needed respite from the troubles of the day.

    Thank you for for the wisdom you have shared with me privately and in your blog!

    Ann

    • Ann, thank you so much! Today has been one of those days when I feel as if I have to run just to stay in the same place, so the encouragement is much appreciated. It always cheers me and gives me a bit of energy if I think anything I did was a help to anyone else. I am very grateful for your presence here. Hope you are having a wonderful week!

  2. Good morning, Julia! Does it sound funny to say “thank you for being gigantic?” Heh heh. Since you are rather petite, I think maybe you are too sticky to fall through a sieve, instead!
    On a more serious note, Victor Frankl suggested that suffering expands to fill the space allowed it (bad paraphrase, perhaps).
    I think that if I have only so much space for suffering, then helping someone else maybe takes up a little of that space, and perhaps my own volume of suffering must necessarily be a little smaller, having less space? I don’t know. I do know that I’m happier when volunteering or engaged in helpful activities.
    Love to you, Sister!

    • Susan, “thank you for being gigantic” sounds wonderful to me in more ways than one (as I sit here consuming dark chocolate peanut butter candy and meditating on my steadily upward weight trajectory). Today has been a comfort-food, stressed-eating kind of day for me, but sometimes I have to just say “BIG DEAL” (no pun intended). I have never heard that particular Frankl observation but it rings true to me, as does yours about relative the volume of suffering vs. the alternatives. I have often wondered whether most of our relatives of two or three generations ago would wonder how anyone in our electronic, climate-controlled world of plenty could possibly think life was hard. But of course, it is, and always will be. I think the notion of crowding out the misery with compassion and creativity makes a lot of sense! Love to you too!

  3. Carolyn

    Hi dear friend, well here we start another week. I am well just trying to make my arm work, hope by July it will be working a little better. Tomorrow is Jeff’s big day. If you get pictures, I would love to see them. Hope Jeff is up to all this, how is he feeling? Phil was asking about him yesterday. He always asked how he is doing ever since I shared with him his condition. You all are in my prayers. And this time next year I hope we are thinking about our reunion,give Jeff a hug for me and tell him we are so proud of his 30 years. Hugs and love to all.

    • Hi there Carolyn! I am so sorry to hear that your arm is not working well. I am proud of you for staying tough during all you have been through in recent years. Hang in there and I will keep hoping and praying with you, that you and your arm will be ready for an active summer. Today has been filled with mostly red-tape kinds of things related to retirement — filling out forms, etc. The big ceremony was on Friday, and it was wonderful. I will try to send you some photos. Most of the ones I took came out blurry but there are a few good ones my friend Amy took. I’ll try to send you some more details later. Tell Phil and Sherry hi for us, and tell Phil that Jeff is hanging in there and doing OK. As wonderful as Friday was, it did leave him exhausted, as you can imagine. But he needs to stay on the chemo as long as he can, since his CEA numbers are still bad. I was thinking just yesterday about NEXT YEAR being our 5-year party. I can remember when it seemed impossibly far in the future but here we are with only one year to go! We’ll keep pressing on and thinking positive! 😀 Love to you and Terry.

  4. Dorothy Walker

    Dear Julia,
    Today’s reflection rings so true for me. After losing his battle, with cancer, my dear husband of 53 years passed away in January. The beautiful flowers and cards sent by many were so uplifting. My many friends who expected nothing of me but gave me their love and support during the final weeks and months as I cared for him with the help of a team of palliative care nurses, were truly wonderful. Try to live each day at a time, Julia, and with the prayers and friendship of those we love, you’ll find the strength to keep going. Even though I haven’t sent any comments for probably over a year, I never miss reading your posts. Thank you.
    My love and prayers fly to you.
    Dorothy

    • Oh Dorothy, I feel so sad to hear you lost your husband to cancer this year. WOW, 53 years together — what a blessing and yet what a loss now to be without him. I am happy that you have the support of friends and loved ones. I know I could never have made it through the past three and a half years without that loving support. Sometimes when I start to think about what may lie ahead for us I get scared and very sad, but I try not to focus on that and just live one day at a time, as you say. Thanks for letting me know you are here with us. I have been grateful for each of your comments and also for your presence here whether or not you leave a comment. (BTW it hasn’t been a year since I heard from you — you sent me a lovely note when Daddy died in September 🙂 ❤ ). Those love and prayers can do wondrous things including traveling the world over and only growing stronger for the journey. I so enjoy thinking of my friends who are enjoying summer as we endure winter, and who have the cool refreshment of winter during our hot summers! I dream of someday visiting your part of the world, but until then, it's always refreshing and a joy to hear from you. My thoughts are with at this sad time. May you be granted consolation and extra measures of unexpected joy to get you through. Thank you for being here with us and sharing your life.

  5. I was talking with a new friend just yesterday about my life and tried not to dwell on the negative aspects. I laughed as I stated they could make a tragic movie about my trials and difficulties throughout my life but it would have to be categorized as fiction because nobody would believe it to be true. 🙂

    I’m about to enter a whole new life, moving from my present home into public housing for seniors. I’m really looking forward to it actually, except for those wild crazy parties they throw. 🙂

    • Bob, I told Jeff the same thing when he was lying in the hospital after his THIRD surgery (the second two having been emergency surgeries following the first liver resection) and we got word that Matt had broken his arm and had to have surgery. Probably you couldn’t get a fiction editor to let you tell the story as it really was because it would sound unbelievable even in fiction. Here’s a quote from Sydney J. Harris: “The reason that truth is stranger than fiction is that fiction has to have a rational thread running through it in order to be believable, whereas reality may be totally irrational.” All kidding aside, there’s no doubt that some people seem to have more than their share of difficulties. As one of our ministers put it in a sermon one time, it’s like the airline flight where everyone sits in the same (or nearly the same) cabin, and goes to the same destination, but some of the fares paid will be extremely expensive, others quite cheap, and many in between.

      I am glad you are looking forward to your move. I have come to dread moving; for Jeff and me, it seemed to get harder and harder the older we got. You are pretty good at traveling light so I guess that helps. It’s a skill I need to develop. Not to sound morbid, but when I’m cleaning up and trying to clear stuff out, a question I now often use to motivate myself is: do I want someone to have to deal with this stuff after I die? For me, it gives me good motivation! 😀 Just beware of those wild and crazy parties and make sure you leave about ten minutes before the cops show up! 😀 😀 😀

  6. Amy

    What a beautiful arrangement. How sweet for New Years too. I hope I am caught in the net of folks too big to pass through the test of friendship even if I did forget to bring you the cookies I grabbed at the TJ Max in Woodbridge. Just means we’ll have to make another date soon before the cookies expire. You are caught in my net after all the support you and love you have given me in the last 20 plus years. Lots of fun gifts and crafts and plenty of prayer. Take care of you today my friend. Know that you are loved.

    • Oh my, I totally forgot about those Skinny Girl “protein” bars (HA! if that’s a healthy item, can a nutritious cinnamon roll be far behind? I hope not)! I totally forgot about all sorts of things on Friday in my stress over bad hair and missing breath mints. (Jeff said “your hair didn’t look BAD, it was just over-conditioned.” 😀 ) One thing I meant to tell you was how hilarious the card you sent me last week was (and BTW, in answer to the question of the hour, I think the proper phrase is “buck naked” but I’m no language expert). Also how cute the card you made was, and how I was totally cheered up to get each of them. By all means, you must come back to see me SOON (or I will come see you soon – or both). Thanks so much for being with us on Friday. I know it must have gotten awfully boring for you since it was mostly a lot of people you didn’t know, but I so appreciated your taking care of our memorabilia, my purse and my sanity!

      • Amy

        I was not bored. It was really fun to hear how much people have come to love and admire Jeff. Also nice to know his career has been more than filling cavities and cleaning. HAHA. I was pleased to be there. I forgot the bars until I found them on the slightly cluttered counter yesterday. Dagnabit. Your hair was fine. You looked lovely. I love the explanation for our question of the hour. I do think it was probably some male thing although the author of the link didn’t seem so inclined. Anyhow, Aaron is home net week for spring break but the following week the Green Valley Book fair is on. Want to go? Let me know. Love ya.

        • Awww, you are too nice. I’m SO GLAD you were with us. I sent you an email about the GVBF — I think we might be able to get there this time! 😀 Have a great week.

  7. blseibel

    Friends are such a blessing. I am glad you are so blessed. I too feel blessed in that area, some I know in person and some via the internet.

    • I was thinking today how many people I feel close to, with whom my primary contact is online. Many of these are people I knew first in person, and some I knew first online and then met in person, and some I’ve never met. But there is a sort of bond that happens among people who write to one another that is not present (at least for me) in the absence of such exchanges. I’m happy to know that you have that same source of joy and support in your life! Some people don’t seem to “get it” but for those of us who do, it’s delightful.

  8. HarryS

    PS had a joy filled chat with my uncle Robert who is 6 years older than I yesterday and he told me a tale about a lady who went to the doctor complaining of “silent gas”.
    After a thorough examination she asked, “Well doctor, what did you find?”
    He replied, “I find that you need a new set of hearing aid batteries!”

    I shared with Robert that I think about him almost every time I use the bathroom because I remember sharing a time with him in a “two hole” outdoor toilet in rural Alabama when I was 3 or 4 years old and he told me, “Harry, use a lot of paper when you wipe”.

    Talk about a couple of old guys having a hoot of a laugh.

    Namaste’

    Harry

    • Harry, pretty soon we will have an entire population of folks (at least in most of the USA) who can’t remember ever using an outhouse. I rarely ever even saw one, except while camping with the Scouts. Some things are better forgotten, I guess 🙂 but it makes for some funny stories. Namaste to you too!

  9. Good Morning Julia. How nice to receive such a cheery presentation in winter. It looks like a bundle of spring. Flowers are a nice indulgence aren’t they? I’d love to have them more often but the kitties refuse to ignore them. Especially Petals who will chew anything, much to her tummy’s concern, Gah!
    When I think about you, I marvel at how you are managing what I know would bring me to my knees. It’s hard to imagine myself coping in any of it. We can never know what lies ahead, but you will be my inspiration. Even if we hadn’t met yet, I knew from very early on, that you’d be someone I would learn from. Learning how to be brighter, more caring, more giving and more thankful. Thank you for sharing your story, your wisdoms and your friendship Jules. A gift I cherish xox Kelly.

    • Yes, those yellow flowers were just the ticket to brighten up the beginning of a long winter. They lasted a good while, too. Every time I walked into the room and saw them, I felt better. There was a big yellow smiley face mylar balloon tied to them, but it doesn’t show in the photo. I would have to be very careful about having kitties over because a lot of the plants we have are supposedly toxic to animals and I used to worry about Pasha chewing on them, but he never did. Tea bags were a different story…I could never leave them in the garbage because he would sniff them out and dig in. I had to put them out of reach and throw them away immediately before taking the trash out. Of course, with a cat, there is no such thing as “out of reach…”

      Thanks so much for your kind words. Actually I am brought to my knees rather frequently, but it’s not a bad place to be. 🙂 Sometimes when I’m literally brought to my knees praying in distress with great worry or grief, I think of how some faith traditions include kneeling or bowing in prayer several times a day on a regular basis, and wonder whether those of us who don’t do that might be missing something. But I digress, as Raynard says…In any case, I appreciate your encouraging words– please know always that your friendship is a gift I cherish too; it’s definitely one of the best things to come from this blog! I learn from you the very things you say you learn from me; isn’t that wild and wonderful? 🙂 ❤

      • Wild and wonderful, 😀 yes! Friendship, it’s an intoxicating elixir to be enjoyed often in generous doses. I’m all in. ❤

        • 😀 ❤ 😀 ❤ 😀

  10. Julia, I’ve fallen behind in my blog reading. I’m glad I could return today to read this post and all the comments that followed.

    Food offers us comfort in ways that are legal, affordable, accessible and even sanctioned socially. If you can find comfort from food, from prayer and from knowing that others are present in your life, then you are doing better than most. Some people say that life serves up only what we can handle, but I think it’s the opposite. I think we rise to the circumstances life gives us, or we fall apart. It’s a choice. We can turn to drugs or alcohol, run away from our cares or turn to face them head on, even when they can bring us to our knees.

    I think those of us that tend to introversion gain our strength from quiet, meditative activities (for me gardening, reading, writing or just being in nature). It’s clear to me that you have many friends and a caring community. After all, good friends are with you through thick and thin, not just when their is something there for them.

    xo

    • Hi Alys, thanks for being here today. It’s always a joy to hear from you. I agree that I am fortunate to have many comforts in life that help to make up for the hard times. And yes, we do choose how to respond to whatever is thrown our way. Sometimes we get knocked off-kilter despite our best intentions, but most of us manage to pick ourselves up and keep going even when it takes awhile to get back to optimal running condition. Food really is a great comfort. I found out what a huge part of my life it was when I was HORRIBLY sick 24/7 during the first 5 months of my first pregnancy. And one of the hardest things about watching what Jeff has been through, has been seeing how much his enjoyment of food (something we always shared) has been so sharply curtailed by the effects of his surgeries and treatments. Fortunately for him, he is one of those introverted types you mention, and I think he draws strength from quiet time at home, reading, and enjoying nature.

      I feel very lucky that we have such caring and steadfast friends. I was a bit odd as a young adult because friendship (with girls or guys) was always more important to me than having a boyfriend. I think friendship is too often put on the back burner in the urgent distractions of family and work responsibilities, but friends are crucial to sanity and wellness, at least for me, and I treasure each and every friend– including you!!! 😀 ❤

  11. I missed this one earlier and had to say I loved the flowers and the kind thoughts everyone sent. Just saying hello on a gray Portland day. The flowers cheered me today as well.

    • Thanks, Marlene! Aren’t photos wonderful? Those flowers keep bringing fresh smiles with their bright colors. Not quite the same as being there “in real life” but not a bad substitute. I’m so glad you enjoyed them. I also like a gray Portland day now and then, it’s great for atmosphere. 🙂

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