Her name is Maryanne. She was so sweet on the phone. I was having trouble coordinating schedules to ensure that I would have a driver to take me to and from my regularly screening colonoscopy. She patiently took my third call attempting to schedule the procedure.
We confirmed the new date. I told her, frustrated, that “I would figure out how to get to and from the procedure.” She responded by kindly suggesting that I take advantage of a service that drives people to and from the doctor in just these circumstances. She had not gotten the suggestion out of her mouth before I burst into tears.
The kind of crying that makes it almost impossible to talk. I was embarrassed to be so upset with a stranger over something so minor, on the surface. I was sad that I was in the position to have someone suggest that I pay someone to take me to the doctor.* She sat silently while I pulled myself together, which was only a few seconds, but to me felt like forever.
She was gentle with me as we ended the call and I moved on with my day. I figured, I will never meet Maryanne and surely she has heard or seen worse.
Two days later I received my instructions from the doctor on the prep and instructions for the procedure. I sat down on the porch with a cup of tea, it had been a long day, and opened the envelope. I read the doctor’s order, the prep instructions, and the forms I need to complete – all standard stuff. I noticed the last sheet of paper had handwriting on it, which seemed strange. I pulled out that sheet and found a note from Maryanne.
In a neat cursive, she had taken the time to share her story with me. She moved to town when she was in her twenties and had felt very alone. In a teary moment, probably similar to mine, she had called her mother for comfort. Her mother sent her a poem. To the right of Maryanne’s handwriting was a copy of the poem, First Lesson by Philip Booth. Now, years later, she was passing along the poem her mother had given her, to me – a lovely gift.
I read the poem as I sat in the quiet of the porch, the Indiana wind blowing through the screens, and sipped my tea. It was helpful. But more than the poem, knowing that there are people, like Maryanne, in the world who are willing to respond to my flood of unintentionally expressed (and uncomfortable) feelings and raw vulnerability with something so kind and comforting. She did not have to. I am grateful she did, grateful that a stranger took the time to say – me too – I’ve been there too.
This reminds me that empathy and kindness are never wrong.
So, I give the text of Maryanne’s poem and hope that someone reads this and finds something helpful and kind here too.
Lie back daughter, let your head
be tipped back in the cup of my hand.
Gently, and I will hold you. Spread
your arms wide, lie out on the stream
and look high at the gulls. A dead-
man’s float is face down. You will dive
and swim soon enough where this tidewater
ebbs to the sea. Daughter, believe
me, when you tire on the long thrash
to your island, lie up, and survive.
As you float now, where I held you
and let go, remember when fear
cramps your heart what I told you:
lie gently and wide to the light-year
stars, lie back, and the sea will hold you.
*I have a non-hired driver for my appointment and at least one back-up in place, just in case.