I’m thinking a lot about the phrase “show up,” as in, “be there” or “do the right thing” or “offer support.”
“Show up” as in, “put your face in front of the issue. ”
“Show up” as in “put your time and your body into something:” a cause, a friend’s crisis, a co-worker’s concert.
Show up: present, ready, open.
I feel called to show up constantly, like most politically awakened people these days. Much has been made of the suspicion that middle-aged women are the force behind much of the activism today, and that we are doing this political showing-up often toting our children, or between meetings on the phone with our reps, or as we flip pancakes on the stove. This resistance showing-up is, while not always fruitful, anything but thankless. Looking into the eyes of the others who have showed-up is like a rally-long chorus of thank YOU, thank YOU, no — THANK YOU. It’s showing-up into a thousand spotlights. It’s gratifying, satisfying, communal showing-up, and because of that, it’s relatively easy.
Then, there are the show-up moments that, in the midwest, come in the form of casseroles and pies and plastic containers of soup. My friend will have surgery for cancer next week, and so I’ll bake and drop off food for her kids, who will likely stand later in a kitchen full of the unfamiliar food of their community: roasted chickens and baked-macaroni-and-cheese and brownies that don’t taste like their mom’s cooking. I’ll deliver the one-layer-down showing-up that is largely faceless. Somewhere, someone cared enough about them to bring something with…is that green beans? Is that apples? They may grumble, but there was someone somewhere who showed up hours before in an unfamiliar kitchen and blessed this weird hot-dish with good wishes for their mama, and for them. That’s a good kind of showing-up.
My rabbi talks about the showing-up that is, in my ears, mostly about crowd-size. “This is what we do,” she says each sabbath, as we stand around the Torah as a community, “we show up for each other.” I stood up this way, one among many, at the awkward edges of a buffet table in the worst social gathering I’ve ever attended: the post-funeral gathering called shiva for the 15 year old girl in our congregation who died from cancer. A friend of my daughter’s years ago, I’d barely ever met this child — precious as she was to all who loved her — but this is what we do, my rabbi explains: we show up, and when the child asked before she died for everyone to wear yellow to the funeral, we wear yellow. We eat the homemade sugar cookies and dip carrots in hummus and mumble awkwardly, and then we force ourselves to the table of the mother who somehow — we will never know how — is smiling and sipping water and chatting. We say “I am so sorry,” and we are, and then we slip out, and we cry in the car a little, watching our own daughter through the window as she chats with all the other living fifteen year olds. We take up some space in a room that has a hole that can never be filled. We just go to go. To be counted.
I’m thinking, though, now, about the showing-up that happens in the quietest moments, when our friends don’t look like they need anyone to show up — but oh, how we all need someone to show up.
My twelve-year-old sensitive soul stands awkwardly at the kitchen counter as I type, fiddling with a piece of paper and scratching her calf with the big toe of her other leg, and I notice out of the corner of my eye that there is something not quite right. I am working — for crying out loud, I am working — but she is poking sadly at last night’s empty cookie package, and I look down at my screen, save my document, and show up.
She’s just been told by a doctor that, partially due to nearly constant issues with her health until she was nine, her eyes are misfiring in a handful of ways — out of sync, slow to focus, tracking words like two sputtering trains on tracks separated by too much distance — and she wants to know if I think her eyes are the reason for everything she can’t do right. She’s staring into a future of weekly occupational therapy and an IEP, and I know the real question she’s asking. Will it make me less anxious? Will it make me more confident? Will everything be easier, when we’re all done?
I have showed up with my attention, with my self-righteousness (I put down my WORK for you!), with my eyes on her, and she needs more showing, more up. She needs my soul in her soul, just for a moment. I reach for her, tuck my face into her neck, and wrap my legs and arms around her, pressing her into the tall stool in my kitchen. I murmur sweetness into her ear — there is SO MUCH you do right! — but mostly, I just show up. I just take in the sad things she has said, hold them for her for just a moment, soften the sharp edges of them and hand them back. I witness her fear. I record it, take its measure, and file the note. I stay fully present for what she doesn’t know she needs. It’s all I can do. It’s all any of us can really do, anyway: see each other. Acknowledge each other with love, with patience, and with the loosest possible connection to the outcome of this moment. There is only me, seeing you.
I just keep showing up. It’s all I can do.