Someone called it my “midlife crisis.” Personally, I think it was just a string of rotten luck, including horrendous income changes, my son’s poor health winging its way into its sixteenth straight month, medical bills that could choke a buffalo, bewilderment following cross words with two of my grown children, the empty-nest syndrome looming just months away when my youngest would be leaving for college eighteen hundred miles away, daily lower back pain due to lack of exercise, arguments with a woman in Texas over a book we were coauthoring and the fact that I’d only seen the sun for about twenty-six hours all winter.
Call it any old psychobabble thing you want – midlife crisis, midwinter funk, too many lifestyle changes at once, mild depression, premenopausal angst, seasonal affective disorder or simply being sick of being a single parent after twelve years. Whatever it was, the fact remained that I was not my usual cheerful self from the end of January until mid-March that year. By then my friends and family had caught on that the big-time blues had invaded my home, heart and health.
For a time, it was all I could do to barely take care of the three basics around the house: food, clothing and shelter. For about a week, during the bleakest days of all, the smallest things could reduce me to tears. I bit my lip a lot, trying to hold back tears.
One day after a job interview, I stopped at my friend Sharon’s house for a cup of tea. She knew something was wrong, even though I didn’t go into all the details. She hugged me, poured a second cup and tried to make me laugh. As I was leaving, Sharon noticed one of the two buttons that hold the decorative belt on the back of my winter coat was missing, causing the belt to dangle ridiculously in the back.
At that moment, during that extremely low point in my life, I honestly could not comprehend how or when I would manage to sew that button back on. Mortified, I felt hot tears sneaking into my lower lashes as I headed for the front door.
Sharon pulled open my coat at the bottom. “Hey, look here. There’s an extra button sewn inside. Take your coat off and I’ll sew it on for you right now.”
At that moment, I felt more love and more compassion from a friend than ever before in my life. Granted, over the years, my friends have been wonderful to me, with me and for me. But this gesture, when I was at such a state emotionally, dragging so low that a missing button was about to send me over the edge, the gift of Sharon’s time, her caring and intuitive knowing that I could not muster the energy to sew that button on myself, meant more to me than if someone had come to my door with a sweepstakes check.
When I got home that afternoon, I found a silly greeting card in the mail from another friend, Kay. Inside, it simply said, “I’ve got a hug here with your name on it.” Every time I looked at that card for the next couple of weeks, I felt loved and buoyed by the light of Kay’s friendship.
A few days later, on what was probably the darkest day of all, a day I seriously considered begging my doctor for a Prozac prescription, my Texas coauthor, the one I’d had arguments with as we worked on our book, sent me a “sunshine box.” Little miracles of love spilled out of that box: chocolates, red silk tulips, sunflower candles, ginger-lily bath gel and three little juice boxes of pure Florida gold.
My heart melted as I noticed for the first time that day that the sun was actually shining. I took one of the juice boxes and the candy out to the deck and sat in my favorite yellow rocker in the forty-degree weather, sipping juice and basking in the glorious sunshine and in the wonderful miracle of friendship.
That sewed-on button, the hug card and the sunshine box got me through those dark days without drugs or further mental deterioration.
And when I began taking brisk half-hour walks every morning the following week, I did a lot of thinking about those friends of mine and their gifts of love. Before I knew it, I understood one of the most amazing, most profound aspects of life: no matter how big our problems, the smallest gesture given in love from a friend can become the biggest miracle of all.