Sitting by the Door
Fifteen years ago I met one of my best friends, Robin, in New York City at an Irish pub. We were there with our dates who happened to be extremely demanding six month old boys. We were a group of new moms gathering to watch the World Cup on a weekday afternoon. Parenting in NYC does not fit the traditional suburban scenarios, so my best advice would be to find a tribe who will sit next to you and unashamedly breastfeed in all sorts of odd public places.
My close friendship with Rob was further forged in the fire of sleep training. We would spend hours texting each other from our spot on the floor right outside our baby’s bedroom door. These were tedious texts if you remember the days of pressing one number to generate three different letters. It was painful, but that was our level of desperation for support and solidarity as we listened to our babies cry it out. I talked Rob down convincing her not to throw away the previous thirty minutes of torture; she convinced me that we were not indeed cruel mothers.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about the metaphor of sitting outside the door. It is hard work to sit with someone while they work through their own stuff. It is incredibly hard not to swing open the door and spew solutions or offer some form of comfort. In her memoir/mid-life female call-to-action Untamed, Glennon Doyle tells the story of her sister’s divorce. Heartbroken and paralyzed with grief, her sister lived in Doyle’s basement. Witnessing her sister’s pain and feeling helpless was excruciating, but Doyle held her place at the top of the stairs outside the basement door. She knew that she could not enter that pain with her sister, but she would be right there waiting when she emerged standing on her own two feet, which was eerily similar to our sleep training plan.
This story is burned in my mind as I have spent the last few months (or was it a year, time makes no sense during a pandemic) hibernating in my own metaphorical basement. At times it felt incredibly lonely and painful, but I slowly learned to feel my way around in the dark. As author Barbara Brown Taylor writes, “I have learned things in the dark that I could never have learned in the light, things that have saved my life over and over again, so that there is really only one logical conclusion. I need darkness as much as I need light.” Nobody could join me down there in my pain. It was work that had to be done for me by me. We might not be responsible for our wounds, but we are responsible for our healing.
Just as I now have well-adjusted teenagers who sleep soundly through the night, the time spent on the inside worked for me too. Recently, as I pried open the basement door, much to my surprise, a whole army of people collapsed upon themselves. Robin and so many other amazing friends had been there all along sitting right on the other side of the door. They had been listening for me, ears pressed to the door and cheering as I navigated the darkness. I have no doubt that on many occasions they wanted to bust down that door proclaiming, “I’m coming in!” But they held on and waited it out, and that made all the difference.
Once I crossed the threshold, friends sprung to action managing, providing, assisting and doing all the heavy lifting. Onward we go. To all of you who patiently sat by the door, I’m eternally grateful.