Here’s your sign

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. – Plato

I had prepared in my head a very nice post about our right to a free compulsory education and what a wonder that was. How everyone should take advantage and all that. But before I got to WordPress I stopped by Facebook and saw a post from my dear friend Nika Corwin. It was an amazing post from the Brave Girls Club. You can go to www.bravegirlsclub.com and read the post for yourself. This touched me so deeply that I had to change my plan for today and share it with you. I am grateful that the women on this website have the courage to say the things they do so the rest of us won’t have to be afraid. We can draw strength from their strength.

The post I read was about a family who was suffering because the dad had a brain injury. Things were going downhill hard and fast and they could barely hang on. The author talks about the idea that if everyone wore a sign that gave you some idea of what they were dealing with you might treat them more gently. Most of us probably have a few days where we could use a little more gentleness and probably a lot of days where we could stand to be more gentle. As I read her signs interspersed into the text I thought about my own life, my own signs.

I come from a family of great actors. Not the kind you see on TV. The kind who spend every waking moment making things appear smooth and calm on the outside while all hell is breaking loose underneath. I’ve been a faker as long as I can remember. I want to point out that this is not always a bad thing. Many times it has served me well and I’ve keep cool under fire. But that’s not the point of the post today. Today I want to talk about seeing beyond the calm exterior and getting to the real story.

I probably wasn’t as convincing as I thought. I know that there were teachers with whom I was close who knew that I may have been a tough nut on the outside but often barely holding things together. And it fell to me a lot to hold things together. My sister and I have turned out to be control freaks because that is what you learn to be the opposite of chaos.

Later on as I got older and I was in control of my own life there were times when the floor fell out. I had a few close friends who may have known the extent of my despair but by and large I went to college, went to work and no one was any the wiser. My wonderful friend and college roommate Nikki tells a story about giving me a hug and being afraid for me because I had grown so thin. Depression had stifled my appetite to nothing and I dipped under 100 pounds for the only time in my adult life. I needed a sign. And a snack.

I mentioned in a post the other day about standing and tearing up while I sang in church. I needed a sign then, too. It wasn’t pregnancy taking its toll on me but the devastation in my own marriage that was bringing me to my knees. But I’m the kind of person who only allows herself a weak moment or two then sucks it up and goes on, chin up. It’s my Mitchell genes that allows orneriness to trump any other impulse.

And now my family is going through other changes. And some days I need a sign. Some days we all need a sign. It needs to be okay to let people know that life is interfering with your work, your mood, your ability to focus and concentrate. Not that you should roam around whining and complaining all the time. Life’s hard, get your act together and go out and fight back. But some days there isn’t any fight left. On those days when you need to hunker down and lick your wounds the rest of us need to either get on the support wagon or get out.

The author of the blog writes that during one of her husband’s lucid moments he was able to understand they were in financial crisis. He put virtually everything of value that they owned, that they had worked hard for, on the edge of the road that passed their property. He marked prices on everything and put up a big, bright sign to advertise the items. A neighbor who had seen this called and screamed at the man with the brain injury for devaluing his property by creating an eyesore. When the man finally took a breath, this is what her husband said.

“Sir,” he said, “There was a time in this country, in this community…when if you drove past your neighbor’s house and saw every single thing they own was for sale in front of their house…and that their lawn had not been mowed for weeks….that you would stop and say….WHAT IS GOING ON, SOMETHING MUST BE TERRIBLY WRONG, WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP YOU?”

I need to try and be the person who says “what can I do to help you?”. I need to be the one to reach into the dark place and bring someone out into the light. Because I’ve been in the dark.

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