Yesterday, as I returned to the warm emptiness of my home after my brother left and I had finished clearing the driveway of the mountain of wet snow that had slipped off the building and dented the roof of my car, I was freezing. I'd been shoveling in the rain, and I stripped off my wet clothes in the hallway, and sat down in the bathtub under the hot stream of the shower.
I knew, when I got out, I should blow-dry my hair and make myself some dinner. I knew that if I didn't I'd be cold and hungry and cranky. But the thought of having to take care of myself was overwhelming.
My supervisor at the hospital tells people to "take good care" when she says "goodbye". I've picked it up and use it on some of my patients. I like it. But it is certainly true that there are times when taking any kind of care is sufficiently difficult and taking GOOD care is completely out of reach. Last night was like that for me.
Out of the shower, I wrapped my hair in a towel, put on a robe, and lay on a couch under a blanket. I wondered how it was that I am sometimes immobilized to take care of myself, even as I spend most of my days taking care of others.
It occurred to me then that the yawning, empty feeling I get, most often when I'm laying in bed at night or driving in my car, is probably not what I've been calling it. Because it usually happens when I'm alone, when I'm single, when I'm away from my best friends and my loving family; for years I have been calling it loneliness. But I see the value in being alone: the quiet spaces of early morning, the opportunity to accomplish things without considering others, the chance to let down every defense. It never really made sense to call it loneliness.
This is exactly what I was talking about when I told Rachel last week that I knew this vacation would be fraught with personal reflection - and therefore growth. What started as an afternoon with my brother, and then a damaged car, ended with a discovery: I am not lonely. I am longing for someone to take care of me.
I haven't decided how to understand the scale of this. But I can tell you that last night I was rescued. My sister came home and fed me dinner, she listened to me cry, she hugged me tight. She quelled the longing for awhile, and I went to bed early feeling much more complete.