A Warm and Tender Hand

“When we honestly ask ourselves which people in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”

–Henri Nouwen

Tell me about a time this was true in your life.


  1. Fran Stekoll says

    Robin Wilson touched my life with a warm and tender hand. After losing the job of my dreams in Santa Cruz, and my 46 year marriage at the same time, Robin was there, holding me as I wept. She knew what I was going through without asking. Robin came into my life in 1968 and she’s still there.

    Another warm and tender friend is Barb. Five years ago her twin sons died
    together in an automobile accident. I was there for her. Since that time many
    persons I called friends have given advice, solutions, and cures; but Barb just supported, hugged and listened without saying a word. This to me is
    a genuine, true friend.

    I want to share with you what I wrote in my book “Reflections”.


    You’re a sweetheart
    So full of love and life
    That if I’d not been married
    You’d been my second wife.

    It’s fun to talk and laugh with you
    It’s also great to watch you follow through
    with your hobbies, especially those horses,
    when our lives are gone there’ll be no remorse.

    Of course we can’t forget the beach
    It beckons to us both and it’s within reach
    We only have to drive our car
    over the hill which isn’t that far.

    Sometimes I wonder why God in his glory
    deals us unfair days.
    And then I realize that’s the whole story
    and these are just His ways.

    Robin, you’ve been there for me
    and I’ve been there for you
    We’ve laughed and cried
    God knows we’ve both tried
    Caring and sharing, till life is through.

    • Janet says

      Beautiful poem. I loved reading it. You captured friendship, “you’ve been there for me and I’ve been there for you. ..laughed…..cried….caring….sharing.” Thank you.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Thank you…in just a few details at the beginning your writing really made me feel the deep places of loss or job, of 46 year marriage, the friend’s loss of twins…just unimaginable. You set up a powerful way for us to understand what these deep friendships mean and the timing of them. Thank you…

    • Terry Gibson says

      Fran, I love stories about true friends. Friendships like you describe are so vital for me. In absence, the beauty of a relationship like that they can span 100,000s of miles, they transect all cultural lines and countries, are very loving, and they cost absolutely nothing! Thanks for the poem. I always enjoy and learn them.

    • Judy says

      Dear Fran, Very touching writing. What a blessing to have such two dear people, Robin & Barb, in your life. Thank you so for sharing them.

  2. Fran Stekoll says

    My Wonderful Friend

    There are friends you call when friends who help you celebrate the good times
    and friends that inspire you.
    There are friends you trust to keep your secrets, friends who let you cry, friends
    that know how to make you laugh.

    Then there’s you, the friend who does it all.

    Thanks for being my all weather, all purpose, all time greatest friend.

    • Laura Davis says

      I wasn’t sure if you were saying this to yourself (wouldn’t that be awesome) or to another friend. In either case, it’s a lovely tribute.

    • Terry Gibson says

      It does sound like a nurturing affirmation. Words like this to ourselves regularly would create a groundswell of women: loving toward themselves, happier, more content, and yet creating communities to challenge what needs changing, share our combined resources, and make even bigger things happen. What a future we could have! Thanks, Fran.

  3. Lee Xanthippe says

    The people in my life who mean the most to me give me lots of advice, some of it quite good. I like to surround myself with lots of different kinds lof people who give me different perspectives. I like the fact (?) that in some ways the people around me can be smarter than I am and certainly more experienced. I like people, need people who can also meet me where I am. I need no cures for the things I need no cures for. I don’t need to be cheered up where I don’t need to be cheered up. I don’t need “inspiration” when people think I need inspiration. But I think the people who I love best to have close to me are the people who can wrestle with me and offer comfort/understanding and perspective and again, meet me where I am, not where I’m not.

    There is so much baggage or rather ableism around disability and health issues that I find that this is the most difficult place to share, around these issues. People want to think you brave or inspirational or want to compliment your “coping.” I hate the word coping. I don’t want to be adviced to death. I am not looking for a miracle or a savior. I want to just live my life and have my differences and problems be a part of my life and to look for solution when that is a possibility. I do not want people feeling sad for me or sorry for me. I will let you know when I want you to feel sad or sorry for me or for someone else. I will let you know when I want you to be an activist and to help change the world instead or feeling sad for people or singing, “there but for the grace of god go I”…I think we need to look toward the people whose god grace is not falling upon (translation: toward those who have been affected by discrimination and bad systems and lack of services and fight the fights to make this world better…and to listen to those who have been caught in the mire or gotten out and see how we can pave these roads better ahead of us…or know which roads to leave unpaved.)

    PS to Henri: I don’t want anyone touching my wounds with a warm and tender hand. Ouch!

    • Hazel says

      Thank you for sharing.

      In my humble opinion, I found this a statement of a very independent person and I can relate to that. I liked your phrase, “me where I am, not where I’m not.” I quit going to church for that very reason. Too much raw, raw and not enough reality ie. this is where I am at and every thing is not okay. I agree a positive attitude is great and I try to maintain it through the struggle.

      Thanks again for the validation.

    • Laura Davis says

      Lee, I appreciate your honesty and complete clarity here. Thanks for sharing your point of view on what feels supportive–and what doesn’t.

    • Judy says

      “me where I am, not where I’m not.” Love this line. Love the honesty. Love the piece, Lee. Thank you.

    • Ilana says

      I love the certainty and strength in your piece, Lee. I love how you chose to use the prompt in the last sentence saying that it isn’t what you want. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and individuality with us. IM

    • Terry Gibson says

      Lee, I like your declarations here. Right to the point. Sometimes I repeat myself on stories to people; that’s because I keep waiting for just one person to listen to me. They race down the advice path, which can be a waste of energy given it isn’t even applicable to my life. I hope I become as transparent as you are on this one.

  4. pj says

    ““`Warm and gentle touch H.N.

    People that are close to us giving advice, solutions are doing just that giving these things to us, in some cases unsolicited, Unfortunately, this implies that the relationship is unequal or one is the fixer or ”Master” and the other is subordinate partner. This may be harmful to this partner, bringing nothing valuable to the table and inadvertently hurting that partner with feelings of unworthiness.

    A touch other hand is a very human sensation without regard to the relationship of the two people. Neither party has a `superior/subordinate but more of co-equal feeling. With the touch there is n implied consent or welcome due to its higher degree of intimacy that mere words imply. Both the toucher and the touched seem to be more involved due to this intimacy.

    Not so long ago, I was hugged in such a way that made me feel so much better, than the awkward, limiting way I was trying to help the partner with the other problem.

    • says

      PJ, I love what you said about touch versus plain talk. I think the key in all these relationships is mutuality–with the give and take being relatively equal.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      I too liked the contrast in the end between the good hug and the other approach that somehow didn’t work as well. That touch can cut through a lot when it is right for the person…thanks!

    • Judy says

      It’s often so hard to know what the other person really wants when they may not know themselves. That’s where the awkward part shows up for me. Thanks for sharing, PJ.

  5. Zoe says

    My aunt, my mother, my best friend Jessica. They have all been there when the tenderness of my heart was seeping open, they have all been there when i was stumbling through the fogs of depression of fear of grief of despair. They have held the high watch for me. They have listened to me. They have loved me through it.

    But now, I am seeking a different kind of truth. I am seeking a truth that doesn’t merely stand with me in the fire pains of life, but one that recognizes even in these times of burning intensity the cool waters of life’s sweet and transcendent salvation is all around me. I am seeking a loving and joyful community to celebrate with. You see I have always been good at the hard stuff. If you are going through a divorce, I am the one you want to call. If you were just raped, I am the one you want to call. If you are struggling to identify the truth of who you are and cannot see your own beauty because you are mired in self doubt, I am the one you want to call.

    But what I see know, what I know now, is that suffering is only one small part of the truth of what this life is all about. Joy, creativity, love, self-acceptance these are our natural states. These are the true, high, holy and honest expressions of our nature. I am not turning away from suffering. I am not denying the pain of life. I am choosing, finally, one step at a time however not to get stuck there, not to get lost there. Not to feel that my pain makes me important, not to feel that my story makes me deep. The thing is through all of these years at being good at the hard stuff I have cultivated a group of friends who come to me when they need to “talk stuff out” and it is such an honor to be trusted with their vulnerability. And I have a loving supportive group of friends who will listen to my struggles. But I am tired. All of the growth and processing and learning has be exhausted. I just want to let it all go and surrender into the joy of this moment. I know enough about life to know that it is not going to get more perfect than it is right Now. There is no holy and sacred future when the pain disappears and I am free to experience untarnished joy, there is only now and the troubles of life only make the joy of this moment sweeter.

    So if you want to dance, give me a call. We can cry too, but those tears will reflect laughter and love and the intense gratitude I have for all that is right now in this perfect holy moment.

    • says

      Zoe, welcome to the Roadmap blog. Thanks for posting such a thought-provoking piece reminding us all about the place of joy and celebration in our lives. You’re absolutely right. Joy and celebration are as much a part of life as facing the hard stuff. Bravo for inviting us all to celebrate with you. I hope you keep coming back–it’s lovely to have your voice added to the mix.

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      I really enjoyed this writing and the realizations in it–“You see I have always been good at the hard stuff” is a line that stuck with me. And this quest for and realization of the perfection in the imperfect real alive moments. I could feel the feeling of one questing for celebration, dance, a balance to the “hard stuff” while realizing this is something the writer has a gift for dealing with. Bravo!

    • Polly says

      Zoe, I feel uplifted now having read this piece. Your language flows beautifully. I enjoyed the assertive yet wonderfully caring (and optimistic) tone. Thank you.

    • Judy says

      Zoe, what joy you give by this telling. I love so many phrases but especially ‘Joy, creativity, love, self-acceptance these are our natural states.’ May you dance through life with your creative/loving heart–that alone makes this a better place to be. Thank you.

      • Zoe says

        Thank you all for reading my words and for sharing yours. So wonderful to “be” here. I have been meaning to join up for well a year or so now. This prompt came at the perfect time for me, of course. Laura is a shaman that way.

        Everyone’s writing here is so powerful.

        • Cissy says

          I am new here as well but your piece moved me. The honesty as well as the clear intention to share/experience new dimensions of life with others. What a wonderful community this is!

  6. Hazel says

    Warm and gentle touch

    I was a victim and being abused in 1973 and for years before that. I had been figuring on how to get out of this relationship for years, but as most victims say, “It’s complicated.” Then I met someone who was willing to help me. It was their job to listen to people’s problems and help them figure out solutions that would work, but they were more than their job, they were my friend. Even after being warned that by helping me they would be in danger, they helped anyway. They gave me the moral support to make a plan, one that I thought I could actually carry through. My first attempt was to just leave with a few clothes and my most precious possessions to another city, get a job and file for divorce. I did this. It ended with my angry husband showing up at my new apartment one night insisting that I go back and live with him. He was very angry but I was able to calm him down by agreeing that I would quit my job the next day and go “home” with him.

    The next morning I went to work, called my friend. They said I must not go back with him. I could get away, they knew I could. On my coffee break I made calls to every agency I could find in the phone book that I thought could possibly give shelter or protection to me (even the police). I called my friend once more and told them I was going to have to disappear and not to be surprised at anything that happened after that; to be alert and on guard.

    I drove my car back to Seattle, WA from Portland, OR; got my long hair cut in a boy cut; bought 3 changes of clothing. I took a bus to Vancouver, BC, Canada (after telling a taxi driver I was going to Los Angeles); took the train to Ottawa, ON, Canada and disappeared.

    The consequences for my friend were far-reaching. They were yelled at first on the phone by my husband; next they were yelled at at their door while he waved a gun in the air. My friend got a restraining order to keep my husband away and bought a hand gun to carry. My friend was shot at while driving home several times. My friend’s family were so frightened by what was going on that there was a divorce for them.

    Through it all they remained my friend. My divorce became final. We both remarried. Both my ex-husband and my friend have died (of natural causes, at different times).

    I will be grateful to my friend for their support until the end of my life. I am sure that I would not still be here able to write anything if it had not been for their support and insistence that I leave that situation.

    “Thank you, my friend!”

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      The details so well told made me feel this story–the fear and the risks taken by the writer and the friend and the deep costs to people by those that terrorize others. I was amazed at the strength, guts or whatever it was of this friend to stick by and that the writer was able to get away. I found it interesting the mention of the two deaths–of the ex-husband and of the risking helping friend–both by natural causes.
      As I write I am thinking of the opposing “natures” of these two people. Thank you so much for this deep piece, taking us along on this journey.

    • Polly says

      Hazel, I am so glad you survived all of that, that you had such a caring friend, and that you took the initiative and had the determination and wherewithal to get yourself out of such a terrifying situation. Thank you for sharing.

    • Judy says

      Hazel, First of all, thank you for sharing this powerful and very scarey set of experiences. It took courage then and takes courage now to share it so honestly. Secondly, what a wonderful friend and sets of friends you have. I held my breath as I read this and am so glad you are here to share it. To your bravery!

    • Janet says

      Hazel, thank you for a riveting story. It’s so inspiring to read about the strength you had to survive and get out of that horrific circumstance. I’m glad you had such a wonderful, true friend.

        • Hazel says

          Thank you all for your comments.

          This story has lost much in the retelling. I wrote it all down once in great detail but since my computer literally burned up and destroyed all the files that were on it. I only have a few that I had put onto discs. That story was one that is completely gone from all of my files. I don’t want to go there again so have decided not to write it as the original happening, there is no need, I have moved on.

  7. Adrienne Drake says

    When I was seven years old my parents divorced. It was nasty and awful, with all sorts of prompting on the part of my mother to tell the judge that I didn’t love my father and wanted to live with her. Fortunately, I never had to go to court but between that near deception on my part, losing all my friends and moving to a new school where I was so far behind, I was feeling pretty lost, conflicted and alone.

    I began to close down and would speak to no one. In class I sat very still, trying to conceal that I had never heard of Roman numerals before, and being so ashamed that I didn’t know what anyone was talking about. I studied the pattern of my shoelaces instead.

    One day my new teacher, Miss DeWitt, called me over to her desk and asked if I wanted to share my lunch hour with her. While I silently ate my sandwich she pulled out pencil and paper and started writing down those foreign numerals, I through X, placing the familiar numbers, 1 through 10, beside them. Every day she extended to me this lunch hour invitation, while she shared the magic of knowledge with me. This soon became the favorite part of every day, as she would sometimes hug me, or pat me on the back. Such tenderness did not exist in my own home.

    One day she asked me if I had ever tasted avocado. On, no. Something else I didn’t know about. The familiar sensation of shame clenched my gut and folded me over. She knew my body language by now and simply laid half of her avocado sandwich on my lunch sack and walked back to her desk. Today, she was sharing a different kind of knowledge with me. Not only was it okay not to have learned my Roman numerals, it was also okay not to know anything other than PB and J for lunch.

    Taking in all this informaion with my first bite ever of avocado, its buttery smooth flavor and creamy texture became indistinguishable from the feeling of being accepted for who I was.

    Even after I was caught up in all the studies in which I had lagged so far behind, I continued to take my lunches with Miss de Witt. She always managed to somehow let me know I was welcome there by giving me a warm smile, smoothing the back of my sweater, asking me how I was doing. And always, always sharing half of her avocado sandwich with me.

    I was sad when summer finally came and I moved on to the next grade. I would often see her in the school yard, and she always had a special wave or smile for me. She was pivotal in my emotional transition from living with two parents to living with my alcoholic mother. She was one of those very special people who come into our lives by grace; she was one of those who save us.

    If I could pick one food in the world to live on it would be avocados ~ they always remind me of her.

    • says

      Adrienne…what a wonderful tribute to your teacher–and to avocados! I wish you could find her and send her this piece so she’d know how much her extra attention changed your life. Teachers get so little appreciation. I wish she could see this for herself!

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      What a beautiful and vivid piece of writing from the mother putting a child up to tell such a lie, to the roman numerals and shoelaces, to the moment where the teacher mentions the avocado and is smart enough to read the body language and back off, to the patting on the sweater–those ways people can make a person feel okay in the world and let not knowing and learning and tasting be okay.
      Thank you!

    • Judy says

      Adrienne, beautiful, absolutely beautifully written. What a vivid picture: from counting your shoelace pattern and the taste of the avocado. Thank you so much for sharing this. And, I too hope you are able to find her and send her the piece.

    • Janet says

      Thank you for this moving story about the good that teachers do. Your story is beautifully written with vivid images. I was right there with you when you said, ” In class I sat very still, trying to conceal that I had never heard of Roman numerals before, and being so ashamed that I didn’t know what anyone was talking about. I studied the pattern of my shoelaces instead.” And I could feel the comfort of, “She always managed to somehow let me know I was welcome there by giving me a warm smile, smoothing the back of my sweater, asking me how I was doing.” A great tribute to your teacher.

    • Ilana says

      Adrienne- I loved reading this piece. It is so beautiful and filled with sweetness. It is written so eloquently and flows so smoothly that I felt like I was actually there. Thank you so much for sharing this story with me. IM

  8. Tony del Zompo says

    I met Lyle for the first time in the psych ward. Well, to be honest, it was when he came to visit me. I had been admitted for acute suicidal ideation and an attempt at a suicide attempt. I had gone so far as to steal a gun from a friend of mine, drive to San Francisco, press the gun to temple, safety off, with the intention of blowing my brains all over the inside of my car. But I couldn’t summon the nerve to pull the trigger.

    I returned to Santa Cruz with my tail between my legs and was driven to Dominican Hospital. Word spread fast. In a small town, and in the twelve step community in particular, there are few secrets.

    A mutual friend named Marianne told Lyle about me. She had watched me struggle with depression and early sobriety for weeks, and had grown fond of me as the rummy “newcomer” to recovery. Upon hearing of my 5150, Marianne thought Lyle might be able to help.

    I was in the solarium on the psych unit when Marianne and Lyle showed up. From the moment they walked in, I had the feeling that Lyle was sizing me up. He was a tall man, quiet, and when he spoke, his words were calm and measured, as if he had chosen each and every utterance deliberately.

    “Tony,” he asked. “Are you willing to do the things we do to stay sober?”

    I put my head down. Willingness was a dirty word to me. It had become the club that well-intentioned people in recovery had bludgeoned me with for weeks. Willingness. The state of being willing. Inclined or favorably disposed of mind. I was in a locked psychiatric unit. My state of mind was suspect at best. Prompt to act, done or born, or accepted voluntarily or without reluctance. There’s a belief that a person has to be desperate to seek recovery. I was no longer within shouting distance of desperation. In truth, I had no idea whether or not I could be willing.

    I looked up, and I met Lyle’s gaze. Although his countenance was stoic, his eyes warmed me. “I don’t know.” It was as honest as I’d been for months.

    Lyle paused and studied me a moment before he spoke again. “Then let me ask you this. Are you willing to be willing to be willing?”

    I cocked my head to the side and considered the words. It was so simple. Too simple. “Well, yeah,” I said. “I can do that.”

    “Then you’re on your way.”

    I had no idea what Lyle meant, but I couldn’t help but be impressed with the time he spent with me. I was released from the acute care unit and transferred to a sub-acute residential treatment program. Lyle came to see me several times a week and began to share his story. He was a Vietnam veteran and suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Alcoholism had destroyed his first marriage. He’d been sober thirty-three years. Thirty-three years! It was absolutely inconceivable to me.

    “How do you stay sober thirty-three years?” I knew the answer before I asked the question.

    “One day at a time.” He said and smiled. “All you have to do today is sit still. Listen to the wind rustle the leaves. Pick up the cat that has been brushing against your leg for the last ten minutes.” I had hardly noticed the cat. “Pay attention to what is happening to you right now.”

    It had been too long since I had existed right now. My mind never stopped. Torment is not too strong a word. My failures and my guilt slammed into my consciousness at all hours. The only time I was aware that I had a reprieve was when I surfed, and I hadn’t surfed in months. I no longer even owned a board or a wetsuit.

    “How.” I asked. “How do I pay attention?”

    “Just breathe. And pray.”

    Breathe and pray. Again, so simple. And not. Still, I had agreed that I was willing to be willing to be willing. So, I prayed. “Please.”

    “Please.” Nothing more. Just please. I figured that if there really was a God, and if it was anything like the God of my childhood, It already knew what I needed long before I did.

    And it worked. Almost nine years later, I’m two months shy of celebrating seven years clean and sober. It took one more relapse and one more stay in the county jail before I became teachable. And willing. Lyle placed a hoop in front of my large enough to squeeze my pride and my shame and my failures and my longing through. The willingness to be willing to be willing was all I needed. Eventually I became willing.

    There’s a belief in the twelve step community that if someone is not ready to get sober, you can’t say the right thing to help them, and if someone is ready, then you can’t say the wrong thing. I disagree. I don’t know if it’s ever that black and white, and if it is, who’s to say? This belief, were it true, abdicates me as the messenger of any responsibility for the message I carry.

    I don’t think there are many people as patient as Lyle was with me. I only hope that when my time as messenger comes, I’m as able as he.

    • says

      Tony, welcome to the Roadmap blog. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story of Lyle and how he changed your life. I loved the idea of “willing to be willing to be willing…” Anybody can do that. I can, too–with the hardest things I’m up against in my life right now. Why not? That’s a first step anyone can handle. Thanks for sharing. And as they say in AA, “Keep coming back!” I look forward to your posts and comments in the weeks to come.

      • Tony del Zompo says

        thank you laura. that makes me feel very welcome, and since i’m a WRITER, i probably ought to write. more…

    • Lee Xanthippe says

      Thank you!
      I felt in this piece that I was along for this journey that was scary at times and profound. I liked the details in the conversation between the two men and the doubt of the narrator. “Willingness was a dirty word to me.”

      I like that “I don’t know” was the most honest thing and the gentle way openness came. And the details about the moment–the cat that was there but unnoticed, the abandoned surfing. I like the way this piece slowed down enough to catch the little details and the inner thoughts. Thanks much!

    • Polly says

      Tony, this was so vividly told. I love the dialogue, and the profound and very real-feeling descriptions. Thanks for sharing it with all of us.

    • Judy says

      Tony, yes, keep coming back! As Lee said, the pacing was a strong part of the narrative. Thank you for the story of Lyle and your journey together. To sobriety!

      • Zoe says

        This writing is very powerful. I was right in the story moment by moment. I love the image of the cat brushing up against your leg and the realization of not noticing it. Great description.

  9. Ilana says

    Before I give you my piece I’d like to appreciate the stark contrast between my last post and this one. Barbara S had a place in my world, served her purpose and will soon leave it. But Carolyn belongs in my life and I hope she will be here for a very very long time.

    “Glad to Have a Friend Like You and Glad to Just Be Me”
    From “Free to be You and Me”

    “There is nothing you can say that is going to offend me.”


    “Really. You’re safe with me.” I stopped to stare at her. I was so lucky to have Carolyn for a friend.

    This conversation took place about a year and a half ago. We were walking around the track at the gym to just talk and process whatever might be bothering either one of us. It was our one hour to take care of ourselves. Our one hour a week to be with someone who understood and if she didn’t understand she still cared. At that time we had been meeting like this for three years. Now it’s been almost five years and we still do everything we can not to miss a meeting. We rearrange our schedules and ask special favors of our husbands. Zander and Brand both know how important this is to us and they are both willing to do what they can to cover kid duty to make sure we can meet. Carolyn has heard everything; the good, the bad, the ugly and the truly horrific. She has never judged me, even when I was judging myself. Then she only disagrees, offers a different perspective.

    I should back up, tell you how we met. It was at that very gym. Six years ago I was pregnant with my son. The prenatal yoga class at the JCC had become too expensive for me so I went looking for another class. There I found Carolyn. She was pregnant with her third child too. As it happened we both had two girls and were pregnant with boys. At first I thought she was entirely too serious for me, one of those busy important types. Her brown hair always gathered into a sensible ponytail that went to her waist and her face set in a look of concentration. I wouldn’t say I was scared of her but definitely felt that she’d have no interest in talking to me. She was a career woman. Her husband stayed home with the kids. What would a woman like that want with a girl like me? I’d been a stay at home mom for four years already. She came to class straight from work. I fed the kids dinner before I brought them with me and left them in the daycare at the gym. We were friendly but lost touch after the babies were born.

    Then one day I was walking around the track. It was about six months after our sons were born and she looked fantastic. Her once long brown hair was now cropped short and dyed to a dark blond that suited her perfectly. I jogged to catch up with her, expecting to make polite conversation. That’s not what happened. Carolyn was kind, more genuine than I expected and we planned to meet again to walk the track together. So here we are, nearly five years later and jumping through hoops to make sure we see each other as often as possible.

    Carolyn has seen me through all the gruesome twists and turns of confronting a sexually abusive childhood. I have never had a friend like Carolyn. During my emergency phase I was embarrassed by constant flashbacks and intense dizzy spells; both of which often caused me to stop walking and grab onto the rail of the track for support. Carolyn had offered her shoulder and made it clear that I had nothing to be embarrassed about. “Not with me.” She’d said reassuringly. I can tell Carolyn anything. She never judges me and always asks if I want advice before offering it.

    I’ve been there for her too. Through a vicious nasty boss, being laid off and all the normal concerns we’ve both had about our beloved children. Both of us have wonderfully supportive husbands yet between us, it’s even okay to complain about the little things these loving but imperfect men do that get on our nerves.

    Carolyn helps me feel safe when my world is swirling with insecurities and uncertainties. When I think I’m going crazy she helps me feel normal and accepted. That is the most precious kind of friend I can imagine. So to end what has quickly become a thank you note to a dear friend, I’d like to quote a song from the musical “Free To Be You And Me.” Here’s to you, Carolyn. “I’m glad to have a friend like you and glad to just be me.”

      • Ilana says

        Thanks! I sent it on to Carolyn. Her response was “I have never been so honored and flattered. Thank you for your kind words. Back atcha!” I am so glad to have finally made my feelings clear to her. Thank you for this joyous prompt. IM

    • Polly says

      I enjoyed this piece. It sounds heartfelt. The main thing I get from this is that you are both very lucky to have each other. I’m glad Carolyn is in your life. Thanks for posting.

      • Ilana says

        :) That is what she keeps telling me. Every time I say “I’m so lucky to have you for a friend.” she responds with “We’re BOTH lucky.” Thanks for letting me share and appreciate what I’ve got. IM

    • Judy says

      Ilana, What a lovely tribute to Carolyn. You are both very lucky to share so much and have husbands who are so supporting. Both treasures, indeed. Your description of meeting her the second time was a delightful read. Thank you for open and honest telling.

    • Ilana says

      Glad to Have a Friend Like You II

      It all began with a simple e-mail. It was the night before one of our regular walks at the gym. Caroline and I had been walking around the track once a week for five years. We’d used that time to talk out anything that was bothering us in a perfectly safe environment. That was our relationship, a completely safe place to suffer and celebrate, be soothed and congratulated. We had also grown to trust each other’s husbands. Being a nurse practitioner, Zander had offered her free medical advice on any question he might be able to answer. So here was the e-mail I received. The subject heading,“Homework Assignment.”

      “I’m giving you homework tonight if you have time. Can you ask Zander what he knows about sciatica? I have serious pain all the way down my leg that just started out of nowhere last week and I didn’t do anything to injure it. I’ve been taking ibuprofen and that sort of helps, but at it’s worst the pain is about an 8 out of 10. Walking seems to help but sitting is horrible. Let me know what he says. I’ll see you tomorrow.”

      Zander got back to her right away. He e-mailed her some websites and information but he didn’t have the whole story. He couldn’t have known what was happening to her. For three and a half weeks we wondered about the pain, walking more slowly than we usually did. During those walks Caroline processed through watching a close friend die of cancer. Before the funeral she found out that her own father had committed suicide. We talked about that too. I was dealing with a recent visit to the emergency room because I had some kind of breathing attack. She saw me through the frightening experience of being misdiagnosed and continued difficulty breathing. Then she was there for me through further testing until we finally found out what the problem was and began treatment for that. The pain in her leg was always a topic of conversation but we spent little time on it as she had grown accustomed to it. Then, two nights ago I got a very different message. Caroline was in the hospital having suffered a blood clot in her leg that caused a pulmonary embolism. Well, two actually. She had one in each lung. Meanwhile, Brand was at home dealing with a flood caused by the terrible storms our area was experiencing.

      Immediately, Zander was on the phone with Brand. “I have a brain to talk you through medical issues and two hands and two feet to sop up water. We can take the kids. Tell us what you need and we’ll be there.” Through a series of texts and phone calls we were able to be of support to Brand and Caroline both. I sent one message that said, “I will be bringing over a chicken dinner for you. You cannot turn that down. I am a Jewish mother so I think it is actually against the law for you to refuse me.” He responded, “I wouldn’t want to break the law now, would I?”

      I cooked and I worried. The storm got worse. Zander went outside to shovel hail away from the house. He lined towels up against the windows in the basement. The children were frightened by the noise of the storm but calmed as we assured them they were safe. The storm had quieted by the time we had our break the fast dinner. (This was Yom Kippur, a fast day for Jews.) Finally, I took the chicken out of the oven. Everything was ready. A freshly made salad and a homemade challa were added to the pile. My children made get well cards and I wrote one myself, requesting again, to help in any way we could and reminding them how much they matter to us. “Ilana! You can’t pick that pan up barehanded. It’s fresh out of the oven. And you certainly can’t carry it on your lap all the way to their house.” He grabbed a towel from one of the windows and wrapped it around the pan. By the time we got to their house my legs were soaked in both sweat and rainwater. Brand didn’t notice. He was drenched from dealing with the flooding.

      The children ran around on the driveway, burning off their anxious energy while he filled us in on Caroline’s condition. “She’s out of the woods now but it was scary. The doctor said if she’d gone one more day she’d be dead.” Something inside me clenched but I tried to keep it from my face. This was about Caroline, Brand and their children. They didn’t need to deal with my fear. It continued to eat at my stomach anyway. As we said goodbye I told him that we were taking our kids for a family outing the next day. “We can take your three with us and give Caroline a few hours of quiet when she gets home from the hospital.” “Thank you so much. The girls are taken care of but Nathan will be ready whenever you want to pick him up.”

      We picked him up at 11:00 this morning and I got to see Caroline. She looked like her old self but I knew it was going to be short lived. She was exhausted from her ordeal. Still keeping my feelings deeply buried, I packed all four kids into the car. We took them to paint plaster sculptures and then lunch. At around 4:00 we brought Nathan home. Caroline was sleeping so we took our family off as quickly as we could. At home we counted ourselves lucky that the storm had taken a break long enough to allow us to travel. Exhausted, I fell into bed for a nap. Thankfully, the children watched television quietly while Zander and I slept.

      I woke up terrified with no understanding of why. Caroline was fine. I was breathing. What was I so upset about? Zander put his arms around me. “Ilana. One of your closest friends almost died two days ago. That’s scary.” He honored my feelings and we talked about it a little more. Twenty minutes after their bedtime I served my children dinner. Their behavior was awful but who could blame them? Being exposed to so much anxiety and fear had to take its toll on them. We finally got everyone to bed and the house grew quiet.

      I’ve been depressed, scared and sad all night but I feel better now. I needed to write it out. Writing has been so difficult for me lately but it’s mine. It’s what I need to do. I’m still lost but slowly finding my way back. I’ll get there. And so will Caroline. We are going to be okay. When this is all over we’ll be walking and I’ll be writing, just like we always have.

      • says

        Ilana, I’m so touched by the web of community that you’re so obviously a part of. This is what people do–they’re there for each other. I’m glad both your and your dear friend are mending.

        I loved the part about insisting they accept a chicken–I have a friend newly diagnosed with cancer who won’t accept food–I never thought of pulling rank as a Jewish mother!

        I love this piece–but am afraid not many people will read it here out of sequence. But I’m so glad I did!

        • Judy says

          Dear Laura, I’m so glad you circled back to this piece and I love your comment about pulling rank as a Jewish mother (Scot mother, who cares). There are riches here and I often return to reread posts. Doing so offers a a longer view on these wisdoms. Thank you for creating this community and the opportunity for deeper healing.

  10. Judy says

    Warm and Tender Hand(s)

    Spring 1974……..Checking the rear view mirror, it looked as if the grilled chrome teeth of aggression were about to eat my Toyota’s back seat and embed themselves in my neck if I didn’t get out of the way. FAST.

    The traffic on the four lane divided Palatine Expressway moved much too swiftly that rainy, rush hour afternoon; too fast for me. I had just left a difficult therapy session talking about the divorce–tears streamed down my cheeks as I replayed her words…….Post Traumatic Syndrome. I just wanted to get home, feed the boys, take a hot bath and go to bed. I ached all over.

    Two cars ahead of me in the bumper-to-bumper-traffic was a vintage, tomato red Corvair, the once popular Chevy that was recalled because it exploded upon rear-end impact. To my left, I was boxed in by bundled traffic with no chance to move to the other lane. Behind me, coming fast over the ridge as we rounded the wet, slippery curve was a black rebuilt sports truck with gigantic tires and that horrid chrome bumper—seemingly growling as it barreled down on me.

    To my right: a sturdy guard rail. Below it, some 20 feet, was Palwaukee Airport and what looked like very wet runways, plush green grass between the airport landing strips and the tower in the distance covered by growing fog.

    Assessing my situation with lightening speed, I realized there was no exit on the left, blinding chrome in my rear view mirror, and a Corvier one car length ahead. So, I gripped my steering wheel, pursed my lips and broke through the guardrail. Then, my hands relaxed, my mind seemed to fan out, the road fell away, time slowed, then faded, as I released my white knuckles from the steering wheel and floated through space.

    I heard myself shout, “Holy Shit, don’t let this car flip, roll or explode.” Instead it landed on the greenway, with a thud and loud cracking sound, just feet from a landing strip.

    I have little memory of what happened next. But, the car didn’t flip, roll or catch on fire. My seat was completely reclined and my head on the car’s neck brace. I had a headache. The next thing I heard was someone entering the open hatchback, touching my shoulder and saying, “I’m just here to check your vital signs. An ambulance is on the way. You’re going to be fine.”

    I blacked out then awoke to ambulance sirens. I was alone in the car until someone was at my driver’s side door trying, without success, to open it. Finally, he reached in through the window vent and somehow unlocked the door which creaked and made grinding sounds as it slowly opened to the crunch of glass. A fireman or paramedic was opening my passenger door.

    When I asked where the other guy was, the one who came in through the open hatchback, took my vitals, and said I’d be okay; one paramedic frowned and said, “What guy, lady? There’s just us two.”

    # #

    Post Script: The Toyota was totaled–the axle split upon impact. To this day I have neck and shoulder issues. It took another year for the divorce. And, to this day, I still wonder about the ‘guy who took my vitals.’

    Did angels’ wings buoy me that day? Did their warm tender hands kept me safe? Are they nearby now?

    Two books recently captured my attention:

    1). Mortimer Adler’s, The Angels and Us. Dr. Adler, one of the most prolific and outstanding twentieth century realist philosophers of the Aristotelian school wrote on subjects as diverse as the existence of God, the idea of freedom, the nature of man, capitalism, war and peace, poverty, education, language, and the nature of philosophy itself.

    In this book he speculates on the existence and nature of angels; beings he defines as minds without bodies. Knowing that his peers consider such a topic quaint at best, Adler nonetheless gives serious thought to the idea of angels. He realizes that for most scoffers, the question never raises much above the level of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Yet there is a great deal more to be gained from this inquiry than mere mental exercise. The answers one gives to the possibility and nature of angels has ramifications on one’s understanding of the relationship of the mind, the brain, the immortality of the soul, even the nature-nurture debate over human behavior. (Source: Google)

    2). Elizabeth Lloyd Mayer, Ph.D., Extraordinary Knowing. An attempt to break through the silence imposed by fear and to explore what science has to say about these and countless other “inexplicable” phenomena. From Sigmund Freud’s writings on telepathy to secret CIA experiments on remote viewing, from leading-edge neuroscience to the strange world of quantum physics, Dr. Mayer reveals a wealth of credible and fascinating research into the realm where the mind seems to trump the laws of nature. (Source: Amazon)

    # # # #

    Nearly twenty years later, another paramedic said to me, “Lady, that’s one fantastic Guardian Angel you’ve got.”

    My response remains the same, “Mister, you have no freekin’ idea.”

      • Judy says

        Thank you Laura. If your time permits, you might enjoy the reading the two books mentioned in the piece. Ya just shake your head and smile, right?

    • Polly says

      Judy, to put it mildly, I am so glad you survived that terrifying ordeal! You had me captivated for the entire piece. The angel topic is interesting. I often think of amazing actual human beings as sort of angels, too. Thank you so much for posting this.

      • Judy says

        Polly, Yes, love being around the actual humans who are angles–pretty special. Thank you for your comments on the post.

    • Ilana says

      Judy- That is an amazing story. I’m so glad that you survived and that you still remember that voice. Though I am sorry that you still suffer pain from the accident. It is truly a gift that you can hold onto the positive in such a convoluted and painful situation. What an amazing woman you are! Thanks for sharing this story. IM

    • Janet says

      Judy, your story is absolutely riveting. You had me on the edge the whole way through. I really believe things can happen beyond all physical laws to help us. I am so glad you survived such a life threatening accident. Great writing.

  11. Hazel says

    Wow! Very well told and very interesting.

    Thank you for sharing this ordeal and reaffirming that we really do have angels. Where they come from or where they go we may never know, but we can be thankful they are there.

  12. Janet says

    Felix and I met at the end of 1998. From the start he had a calm and warm way about him. After about a year, I let him come to my apartment. I was very wary of people. I noticed right away that unlike other people, I could be around him for hours without my usual claustrophobia setting in. I think this was because he was such a good listener. It seemed we could talk about just about anything.

    I am eternally grateful for Felix and his love. He got close to me. Close enough to notice I would slip into “younger ages” when I was in the safety of my home. He would just go with it. This helped me to feel, heal, and integrate these parts of myself.

    For a guy, Felix could handle the intense emotional times really well. When my best friend, Beth, died suddenly, he went out in the rain and got this CD of music I wanted to listen to and he held me while I cried late into the night. Then there was the tummy tuck of 2011. I was terrified of getting smaller though it was something I really wanted. It’s a lot easier to get older if I’m fit and in shape. Felix took care of me after the surgery. I had nightmares of being pursued by mad, rapist killers. I’d be screaming at three in the morning and Felix would come from the other room and wake me and hold my hand.

    I learned to show my love with Felix. I helped him get through graduate school. He said he always felt better after talking about his problems with me. And I helped him by getting him to try new things, like hiking in Sedona, swimming, reading classics, and eating sushi.

    From the beginning, Felix said to me, “I will always be your friend. I will always be here for you.” And he has been just that. I had not known this kind of steadiness before. I was always being left by people or I always left them, often without saying a word. With Felix I learned to love and be loved. I will love and treasure him always.

    • Ilana says

      Janet- I really enjoyed hearing more about Felix. I loved the piece you wrote about the “tummy tuck of 2011” and to hear more about the same wonderful person was really nice. As I read this one, the word that popped into my head was “peace”. Reading about him made me feel peaceful. I can only imagine how much peace he brings you. So happy you have that in your life. IM

    • Judy says

      Janet, I enjoyed reading your piece and love the way you are so open and caring with and about Felix. So happy you found each other–those hikes sound wonderful.

  13. Polly says

    My Beautiful Friend:

    One of the best photos taken at my wedding is one in which I am hugging her, bawling, and she is giving the camera a hilarious smile. She can crack me up with her facial expressions. The only part of that day that made me cry was when we hugged.

    We met at the beginning of grade 9. She was sweet, intelligent, funny, a talented artist, and she had a striking beauty that left me feeling instantly as though I could never be her friend. People said right off the bat that we looked alike; and, as she would remind me years later, I denied it – there was no way I looked that good. Our friendship grew quickly though and it has continued to grow in depth exponentially over the years.

    I remember coming out to her. I was terrified. At the time, we were attending a catholic high school where homophobia was indoctrinated as part of the official curriculum. I sat her down at a coffee shop. I had a prop: my photo album. I showed her photos of the Lilith fair concert I had attended the previous summer, and other random things that I found interesting, and finally came to one photo of my girlfriend at the time.

    “This is my girlfriend. I’m gay.”

    She shot me a friendly smile, and just said, “Cool!”

    It was then that I realized that she fully accepted me, and that perhaps I could be secure in our friendship. Maybe she wouldn’t just walk away.

    Early on I saw her through an abusive dad, toxic siblings, her mom’s succumbing to cancer; then in quick succession, a baby not long after high school, a wedding, an abusive husband, a second child, and now a still abusive ex-husband.

    She has been by my side throughout all of the turmoil that most of you here know about. She saw me through my eating disorder when we were kids. She didn’t try to save me because she couldn’t – I had to – but she was there. She saw me through abusive partners and ridiculous choices. After my therapist and my wife, she was the first person I called last fall to disclose my history of sexual abuse. She believed me more firmly than I believed myself at that point, and we talked until 3 AM that night. We both like to talk a lot, and we often find ourselves on the phone or out for coffee for 6 or 7 hours at a time. That is not unusual for us.

    Yesterday was my birthday. I had been trying to reach her for weeks, because even though I haven’t felt much like celebrating lately, I wanted friends around. (I had also had this feeling that she might not be okay, and really wanted to check in.) There was a good turnout, but she never made it. She texted me in the morning to wish me a happy birthday and to say that she would not be there.

    We finally spoke today. I learned that her world essentially exploded five weeks ago. Out of love and respect for her and her children, I will not provide more detail than that. Suffice it to say some earth shattering events have unfolded, and as a result, her life and the lives of her boys will never be the same again.

    Since my healing has just begun, many aspects of my life are more difficult to handle than they were previously. My beautiful friend has always been a tremendously influential part of me. She is part of me. I’m not sure what her future will look like. I hope that I can find the strength to be there for her as she deserves.

    I’m sending her some love. Please feel free to send some yourselves.

    • says

      Polly, Thanks for sharing your beautiful lifelong friendship with us. You have been there for each other through everything, that is beautiful and inspiring. I will send lovingkindness to your friend. I’m sure the rest of our community will, too.

    • Ilana says

      Polly- How beautiful. You are clearly such a valuable friend and I’m glad that someone so kind and wonderful has you there for her. Whatever is happening to her, she is lucky to have you in her corner. From a writing aspect- I was at first disappointed that you did not share what is happening to her but quickly it became a positive in the piece. It underlined the fact that it doesn’t matter what she’s going through, her friendship and yours will continue to be unshakable.
      This is a really great piece and I’m glad I read it. IM

      • Polly says

        Thanks Ilana. It’s funny – I agree that it would be a better piece of writing with those details included. It’s just too soon, and raw, and not mine to tell so early. I wanted to at least get part of it out there now regardless, though. Thank you for your kind words.

    • Judy says

      Polly, Thank you for sharing this beautifully written piece of a touching lifelong friendship. Very special. You are both held in my heart along with Happy Birthday greetings to you,

  14. Judy says

    Laura, When I get to the site, there is a post asking for comments by someone other than you–can’t read the name. It’s titled Upcoming Vacation and the next one is Another Vacation, your picture is at the bottom. Is this yours?

    • says

      Judy, this is a part of the site under construction–I’m going to restart the blog I wrote when I went to Bali last year–The Virtual Vacation. It will be housed on this same site on a different page. Sorry for the construction mess. Hopefully we are now developing it on a hidden page and will only bring it out when it’s ready for prime-time.

  15. Terry Gibson says

    Five Minutes Without Stopping –

    Warm and tender

    There was a time when I had no idea what those two words meant. They weren’t often a part of my experience. Thank God, things change.

    And now … I’m stopping this writing exercise.

    You can’t write well enough. You could never be as ‘good’ as the writers you know. Who in hell do you think you are, anyway? Some people care what you have to say. Problem is: You don’t have anything worthy of their attention.

    You’ve already made a big fool out of yourself here and everywhere. Humiliated yourself in front people you really care about.

    Why don’t you stop while you’re ahead? Or as far as YOU’LL ever get? Big applause on the effort though. A gold medal performance.

    Try again.

    Occasionally, I would meet someone who taught me the meaning of those two descriptors. This was usually women. That doesn’t mean no man fit the bill though; for some reason, I think of Father McNamee, the local priest I worked for as a young teen.

    Stopping. No. Deep breath. Going on.

    I don’t think I deserve it sometimes. Kind exchanges, careful handling or blankets. A squeeze of my big toe thru my sock. The back of a cool hand against my forehead, checking for fever. Soft whispering voices, concerned, as I was too for making people worry.

    There’s no valid reason for feeling unworthy. I’m not a liar, cheat, thief, or someone who sets out to hurt people. I could never, nor do I want to be perfect.

    You know what? It doesn’t matter what I think of myself in my monkey mind acrobatics. The good stuff keeps happening. I have loving sisters everywhere, many of whom don’t think they deserve these things.

    When they have down days (as I’ve had for months), I’d never judge or berate them. Denounce or ridicule them. Withdraw my encouragement or trust. Express disappointment.

    As I do them, I will fight to treat myself as well with warm and tender care.

    PS: I needed to post this as is tonight. Having a really hard time accepting anything I put out. Posting just to get the feel of it again. I do hope my critical voice doesn’t trigger anyone. Almost didn’t post for this reason. Risking it.

    • says

      Terry, I love you for posting this. Even though its full of monkey mind lies, there is still the you in the seat at the center, observing his antics. I’m so glad this is a safe place for you to write and let it all hang out.

    • Polly says

      I’m glad you risked it. (And thanks for being honest about that – I worry about triggering people too sometimes.) To be honest, I felt some tough things while reading it, but that belongs to me and it’s not your responsibility. It just has to do with where I’m at right this second. I like the raw feel of this, and the vulnerability. I appreciate that you’re willing to share even the parts that are the hardest. Thank you.

      • Terry Gibson says

        I’m sorry, Polly. Please shield yourself from the tone of voice I’ve given too much energy here. It’s self-defeating and tells lies. It is disabling and can rob us of everything. I’ve been thinking of some of us as I write the prompt (from two weeks ago) on sacred enclosure. I might get it up here today. You know? It is still our responsibility, as you said, but it is still nice to know that people can relate and care, including me.

  16. Cissy says

    I know there’s a new prompt but this is a free-write for this one.
    My Own Tender Hand
    How many years, tears and lives have I wasted wishing to be the thirst-quenching beer or whiskey that might have made me seen, sipped, reached for and desired. When that failed how often did I try to be the smelling salt for sorry soul, the wake-up call, the second or last chance? How many times did I massage the potential of another, rub skinned dreams, clutch the losses of another to my breaks. My hope was an unpeeled banana wasting, no even compost, not even food for the flies, just wasting under skin wanting to be open.

    How many hands have passed over me reaching for something else and I turned there wandering hands into Gods I prayed to who might reach and lift me? I saw their hovering and made them masters, tried to dreams of ways to capture their attention and to be worthy of their fingertips.

    I need to turn away from the palms of those who bruise, gloss over and cut. I need to turn pack inside, under peel, not to hide but to protect. I need to stop trying to color my yellow green pretending I am another fruit. I do not have to be as tough as an apricot, as acidic as a lemon when I am old enough to nurture my own sweet mushy center.

    So what if I was not the drink my Daddy needed or able to feed from his milk as an infant. So what if my Mother was never a pillow for my tears as a teen. I have not been revered by a Lover the way one looks upon a falling star. But how can I blame them when I too have chastised myself and turned from my own sorry? Isn’t it me who mounts a case, filing each and every flaw and marking it so it can retrieved later as evidence of what I am not?

    Enough. I am done trying to anticipate the needs of others. I am done trying to change my shape and flavor and texture. How can Iove myself here, squishy, unprotected, bruised and peeled where my soul is so fragrant it fills the air?

      • Cissy says

        Thank you for creating a community like this. It’s wonderful. I can’t wait to go back and read through prior prompts as well. Love finding community in virtual spaces.

      • Cissy says

        Thank you for creating a community like this. It’s wonderful. I can’t wait to go back and read through prior prompts as well. Love finding community in virtual spaces.

    • Terry Gibson says

      Welcome Cissy! I find this really provocative and relate on so many levels. I will be back again to read this. Thanks so much. This is an amazing community.

      • cissy says

        Terry, Thanks for reading it and it makes me feel happy that it speaks to you. I’m going to go look for your work. Cissy

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