Sunday, September 9, 2012

The Social Slug

I remember very distinctly the day I figured out that large crowds just weren’t my cup o’ tea.  Everything came to a head while my husband and I were at a busy mall in NJ (insert your own NJ mall joke here).  The mall was crowded with typical weekend shoppers, my husband and I among them.  We were walking along one of the large upper walkways and making our way to some random store.  People were jostling us, brushing up against us, and knocking into us in a non-violent, move-it-or-lose-it-there’s-a-sale type of way.  After a few minutes of constant physical and impersonal contact with countless strangers, I couldn’t take it anymore.  I looked at my husband and said, “I have to leave.”  Then I did just that.  The poor man could only follow me and try to keep up because when I made the decision to leave, I didn’t waste any time.  I beat feet the heck out of there.

I still don’t like large crowds, but now that I understand how much I really, really don’t like large crowds, I know better to avoid them when I can.  I’ve never much been one for social situations either.  I handle them better if I know beforehand that a friend will be there or that I’ll have a buffer, a social “woobie” if you will.  Though I’m neither completely agoraphobic (yet) nor a wallflower, I don’t go out of my way to join large crowds, to be a party animal or to be the center of anyone’s attention.  I may not be a social butterfly, but I do enjoy hanging out with my friends and I like getting out of the house for “me” time as well.  I prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings when I can join a few friends for a meal, a shopping trip, a moms’ night out, or play date.  But I tend to get overwhelmed by the noise and to-do of many social situations.  That’s only become a more firmly established part of my personality the older I’ve gotten, and Ella’s death just exacerbated it.

When Ella died, so did any desire I had to be around people.  There was no more pep in my step, no more willingness to give a quick, friendly smile, to engage in idle chitchat, or to make small talk.  There was no inclination to surround myself with the hustle and bustle of everyday life because everyday life came with too many painful reminders of my sweet Ella.  And what was there to be social about?  I couldn’t see past the pain, nor did I care to.  Any part of me that might have tended even a little bit toward being a social butterfly was gone because it felt as though all that gave my life color was gone.  It’s hard to be a lovely, carefree butterfly when you feel lower than a lowly, common slug.

I waded back into the homeschool social scene this past Friday when I went to our local support group’s first park play date of the school year.  I’ve got to admit that I was nervous and hesitant about going, even though I knew I’d be surrounded by friends who love me.  Even though I knew that their most common reactions to seeing me would be to open their arms to envelop me in big, warm hugs.  Even though I had missed them so much.

Before my son and I headed to the park, I looked for every reason to bury my head in the sand.  I longed to hide out at home where avoiding social contact was as easy as shutting off the computer and not answering the phone.  At the same time that I was rushing my older son through his school work so that we could get to the park on time, I was hoping that he’d drag his feet.  I was hoping that he’d fight me at every turn or at least just enough to lose the privilege of park day.  I was even hoping he’d tell me that he didn’t want to go.  I knew that staying home would have made him miserable, but I figured my own misery would have coped better with his company than with that of a large group, even a large group of friends.

I missed my friends.  I missed them, and I missed letting my son run free with his friends who are happy just to be with him, who accept his goofy, silly self just the way it is, who embrace his strengths and understand his foibles.  I missed the camaraderie that one finds among individuals who are like-minded enough to find common ground but just different enough to keep it fun and interesting and who endure you when you’re aloof as much as they enjoy you when you’re lively.  I missed all of that, but to be honest with you, I also dreaded it.

I dreaded it because of the social scar - the label - I feel like I acquired the moment Ella died.  I’m no longer simply Bridget – wife, mother, friend, homeschooler, hockey mom, soccer mom.  I am all those things, but I am also The One Whose Daughter Died, and that is a painful scar to live with from a wound that will never fully heal.  It’s a label I can’t peel off, a label that some days feels as conspicuous as a scarlet letter.

Social situations, even those that put me in the friendliest of surroundings, take some mental prep work so that I can get in a decent head space.  They aren’t just about how to avoid small talk or being approached by strangers, and they aren’t just about putting on my happy face to be in public.  Social situations for me nowadays are exercises in the futile mental preoccupation of “Do they or don’t they?”

Do they know?  Do they know about Ella?  Do they know what happened?  Do they realize what they’re missing?  Do they know who I’m missing?  Do they understand what I live with and what I’ve lived through?  Do they know how hard it was to even get here?  Do they know that I used to be fun, loud, and FUN?  Do they know that I wasn’t always this damned broken?  Do they see the scar that I can’t stop thinking about?  Do they whisper about my unenviable label, or is this all in my head?

We were at the park for quite a while on Friday, and I not only survived it but thrived in the company of friends.  It helped that we got there late, the group was just small enough for me to wrap my brain around, and I didn’t have to talk to any new people (sorry, new people - I’m sure you’re super nice).  We only left the park to run a few errands when it started raining and thundering.  The rain quickly changed from heavy drizzle to torrential downpour on our way to the grocery store, so we waited it out in the store’s parking lot.  After a long wait, the rain slowed and we could finally get out of the car.  And that’s when I saw it – a double rainbow.

And what a gorgeous double rainbow it was!  The lower bow was a vibrant, unbroken, beautiful arch, and the upper one was more faint but still beautiful.  My first instinct was to make a wish, but my wish…oh, my wish.  I knew better than to wish the unwishable, so I made a different wish that was really more of a prayer, and then I let that prayer fly.

When I saw that double rainbow, I couldn’t help but recall God’s promise to His people.  No matter how much rain we get here on Earth, we know that the earth won’t flood.  And no matter how much rain I get in my life, no matter how hard it storms or for how long, I know I’m not weathering this life alone.  I know that, though I’m more slug than butterfly, there will always be color in my life if I just lift my eyes to look for it.  And I know that, though I’m more prone to embracing loneliness than the maddening crowd, friends – good friends who take me, social scars and all - are never farther away than the next park day.

St. Ella, pray for us!

1 comment:

Marcy K. said...

Well, I'm with you on the crowd thing and I think that is common to introverted people (as opposed to extroverted, those who LOVE to be around crowds). I just don't like to be overstimulated. Too much noise or things going on and I just want out. Not panic mind you, I just don't like it and try to avoid it. It is just my temperament. If I think some event might be interesting but crowded I don't go, etc.

Anyway, let me tell you about my experience with my friend with breast cancer and how it relates to how you think people will react. I met a really fantastic lady at bible study and we became friends. She was in her mid-30's with a young daughter and I really liked her. A couple of years before I met her she had had a double mastectomy and reconstruction. I was unaware of this for awhile.

Then one day she came over to my house and in conversation told me about it. She was surprised I did not know. The next couple of times I saw her I thought about it a lot when I saw her. Wow, how awful. She had had such radical surgery and radiation and hated the reconstruction, etc. I had to think of what I would have done if it was me, or how I would feel, etc. And yes, the next few times I saw her I thought about it briefly and we may have talked about things in her life still related to the fact she had had cancer - like having to go in for another scan, or physical problems related to the cancer, etc. But in general we just talked about anything and everything and had fun.

After awhile I didn't think about it really. She was just my friend and this had happened to her, and she still had to deal with the ramifications of it and those things might or might not come up in conversation, but we would not dwell on it. I might comment or give advice if warranted, but really it was like any other problem someone might be dealing with. It was just part of life and being a friend. While I did not go through the pain she did, I could support her just as if any other of life problems would come up. And she would do the same for me. It's what girlfriends do. None if it is to be ashamed of, or worried about "labels" being placed on your head. Everyone has labels of different kinds on them.

As you go through life some people will know and others won't, and there may be whispers but the whispers are not there to hurt you. Some may be gossiping, but others may be trying to deal with their own fears of a similar tragedy and that is normal, it is how we deal with life.

Your baby's death was something so horrible, and we in our society are not really used to that anymore and are not prepared to deal with it. But if you go a few times to the park and playdates you and they will all loosen up and it will feel more comfortable.

And you are right, God is with you to help you with the hard things in life. BUT He also gifts us with friends to help us on the way as well because He knows we need to talk and get a response. He knows we need those hugs, and that compassion, and that advice.

So here.....I'm sending you some hugs and love and advice, and all the blessings I can muster. God bless!