These past couple weeks have been unusual ones for us, mostly for Michael. He was admitted to the hospital for an unknown pain that was eventually identified as a torn and bleeding abdominal muscle, likely the culmination of over lifting, over straining, or otherwise over using what was already compromised. His stay lasted a full week, and he has since spent a week recovering at home. Nearly alone.
He had commented after his discharge that although for the first part of his life he had never spent a night as a hospital patient, his most recent dozen years have not been so fortunate. “And all that time,” he said, “I’ve done it without a significant or even insignificant other at home, preparing for my return with anxious anticipation.” It was not said in an attempt to elicit pity, merely an observation that his recovery will not be augmented by a constant physical presence of someone providing comfort and support, companionship and concern. Diem also had times in years past when she had to recover from medical procedures while living alone. Together, but separately we experienced why for so many reasons people may be alone, augmenting their solitary lives with families and friends, all held at a bit of a distance. Sometimes by design, sometimes not.
We came to the conclusion that although a single life, as single parents and single caregivers, navigating a world more designed to accommodate couples and groups, can be rewarding, and at most times no more difficult than the sometimes-compromised lives of couples, there are times when the solitude becomes aloneness. Times of illness, or physical recovery from a surgery or hospital stay stand out as some of those times.
The difference is not noticeable just by the single person, but by others too. People like neighbors, church friends, and social groups notice when one-half of a couple is not around. They ask questions, show concern, and offer help. When a single is missing, it is often assumed that person is somewhere else doing something else, if the absence is noticed at all. It is as if when one person, a one of one, is missing, the void isn’t as noticeable as when one half of a couple, a one of two, is not around.
Diem commented, “Being one of one can be isolating. Being one of two is ideal. But being one of many makes a community.” Especially in times of physical need, a one of two is there not just with the love and concern a one of two should share, but also with physical assistance, sitting up with someone in pain, helping them into bed, being there to wake the other when the time comes for medication or a dressing change. We wondered though, could there be another choice. Could there be a one of one-plus?
As a one of one, as Michael recovered during the week, he had physical help from family with the never-ending chores of running a household, preparing meals in advance, and doing the literal heavy lifting one with a newly prescribed 5-pound lifting limit and prohibitions against bending and stretching cannot do. And they also offered emotional and mental support. But at the end of the day, the end of the day arrived alone. There were also others. Others who do not live nearby but are part of his inner circle. Others who are there on the other end of a phone call or text message, an email, a card or letter when you least expect it, and add to his emotional recovery. Still at the end of the day, even though their good wishes remained, they ended their day where they were, somewhere else.
These are the one-pluses. They may not be in a physical place where they can change a dressing or have water ready to take a pill with. They may not be able to hold a hand, make a snack, or fluff a pillow. But they provide an emotional support by someone who has no requirement to provide any support. It is no secret that physical recovery is hastened when emotional recovery also happens, and the one pluses excel at providing emotional support. The best of one of one-plus partners are those who take their roles as seriously as a one of two partner would. Perhaps more. A one of one-plus is selfless and gives unconditionally, expecting nothing in return for their love and concern, no compromises, no unspoken quid pro quo. Just selfless giving.
But what now of the community Diem mentioned? “Being one of one can be isolating. Being one of two is ideal. But being one of many makes a community.” The African proverb,“it takes a village to raise a child” tells us it takes many people to provide a safe, healthy, flourishing environment for children to grow and develop into members of their society. We never stop growing and are never too old to not appreciate a safe, healthy, and flourishing environment. And we should never stop being part of our society, our inner circle, and our extended family and relationships. These are our community.
We all at our most basic are one of ones. If we choose to never step outside ourselves, we will forever be isolated ones. Most of us will learn how to love ourselves and from that learn to love and care for others and from that learn how to accept love and care in return. Some of us will be fortunate enough to experience the physical closeness of another and become a one of two. Some of us will be fortunate enough to learn to love and care selflessly, unconditionally, and become a one of one-plus, some making meals, some helping others be comfortable, some being there to say and demonstrate “I love you and I care” however works best for them. Diem completed her thought that day with, “We all need each other and do better when we feel cared for and important to somebody.” Put all together, we are one of many. And that is community.