(Story altered as requested)
Once upon a time there were two very close friends. One was a well spouse; one was not. One was religious; one was not. Despite this, their friendship was able to grow. Kosher food and paper plates were kept in the pantry of the secular friend, who was the well spouse. She even kept a barbeque that was only used when her religious friends came over. And so the friendship of these two women, along with their husbands’ friendship, grew over the years. But life brings change, and after many, many years the religious couple moved to a different city.
Despite this, the two women shared all their simchas and tragedies, and were always there for each other. They vacationed together twice a year. They visited each other as often as possible, and so their friendship was able to grow and flourish despite the miles between them. Over time, it seemed the women were more like sisters than friends.
When the religious friend (whom I’ll call Miriam) became ill, Fran (my name for the secular friend) went out to help her through the recovery. She stayed for a week making sure the household ran smoothly, the children got to school on time, with their lunches and books in tow, and babysat so the husband could be with his wife. Every spare minute Fran had she spent with Miriam at the hospital. She kept her company and kept her entertained so that her hospital stay flew by and her recovery was easier. And so, it was only natural that after Fran’s surgery, Miriam would hop a plane and go out to give Fran a hand.
There was a problem, however. While Fran could easily accommodate herself to Miriam’s home, the reverse was not as easy. Fran had no time before the onset of her sudden illness to prepare for Miriam’s arrival. There was no kosher food in the house. The barbeque was packed away. And Fran worried about how Miriam would manage.
You see, the only kosher facility in Fran’s city was a small grocery that had limited items. There was no prepared food for take out and even getting kosher bread could be a problem. Miriam had forgotten how limited her previous hometown was religiously, and in her haste to help did not think to bring food along. Both women arrived home the same day, Miriam from the airport and Fran from the hospital.
A snowstorm welcomed them the day they arrived. Visibility was limited and driving difficult. Miriam wanted to go out and get the kosher food supplies she needed, once she saw how ill-prepared Fran was in the kosher food department. Fran had assumed Miriam would have brought what she needed with her.
To make matters more difficult, Fran had a new car and did not want her friend driving it in this weather, especially since she had not lived in a cold climate for years. And so, even though she was just discharged from the hospital, Fran drove Miriam where she needed to go. Miriam let Fran repeatedly pick up the tab. Fran became resentful.
Exhausted, they came home and Fran decided she must lie down and rest. Miriam insisted on keeping her company. She just wanted to be with her, whether she was asleep or awake. Fran, feeling tired and out of sorts, just wanted to be alone, but Miriam wouldn’t hear of it. After all, hadn’t Fran been there for her 24/7?
Later in the week Miriam wanted to visit some of her old haunts, do a bit of shopping and reminisce. Fran didn’t want to lend her the car as the weather was still cold and icy. They argued. Finally, Fran’s husband escorted Miriam in his accessible vehicle. He hadn’t planned to go out in this weather. It was not easy for him to push his wheelchair through the slush.
He also ran the risk of getting sick, which would have been a disaster with his wife so incapacitated. But they felt they owed Miriam. After all, she had come all this way to help. Their years of friendship seemed to hang in the balance. When the week was over, even though Miriam had been a help to her, Fran and her husband were happy to see her go home. Fran told me that it finally seemed to be the point at which her convalescence could finally begin.
What is my goal in retelling this story? What can we learn from both women’s feeling and behavior?
It is always so important to put yourself in someone else’s shoes when wanting to help or do a favor. Your intention may be outstanding, but is it going to be received as you think? The same applies to accepting a favor from a friend. Had Miriam thought to put herself in Fran’s place, she would probably have brought along what she needed, food-wise.
Had she thought about Fran’s fear of her driving in inclement weather, realized that the last place Fran should have been was behind the wheel of a car, and saw the potential risk to Fran’s husband’s health, she would have cancelled her little excursions or taken a taxi.
As far as Fran’s self-care goes, she needed to learn to say “no.” She needed to take responsibility for her own part in the fiasco. She needed to explain her feelings openly and honestly to her friend. When she needed to be alone, she needed to insist upon it and not let her friend’s misguided view of helping, take over.
Had both women been more open to each other’s needs and listened to what was said, the friendship would have weathered the disagreements. This friendship that had survived years of physical distance barely survived the togetherness because of the distancing of understanding each other’s emotions.
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