23 rooms

This has been a hard week. My mom became critically ill and remains in ICU. This might seem a strange time to blog …

…but writing helps me. And if my blog is a reflection of me and my life than that includes these jumbled thoughts stirred up this past week.

Our family has been drawn together pacing and anxious through frantic days and sleepless nights. Some of us have been living together in a family member’s house as we assembled from out of town.

Assorted memories have drifted through my mind this week. One memory is from several years ago when I worked in a regulated environment; it was my first experience in a regulated environment. There was one woman on the team who was an advocate of “quality” although software testing wasn’t something she was familiar with which made me wary. Our points of view were quite different. We hadn’t been working together for very long when she asked me if I knew what the word quality meant. I hesitated something about how she asked made me answer something like – it’s not clear to me what quality means to you.

She replied by explaining the need for auditable documentation, paper trails, successful audits, consistency in capitalization, spelling and terminology. I struggled to learn about quality in this particular environment. Well tested, high functioning software means more to me than auditable documentation. She and I didn’t view many things from the same point of view but I did learn several things from her. One lesson was her use of the phrase, who am I? Using the phrase who am I? was her mechanism to get her head , speech and approach in the right frame for the conversation. As an internal phrase it’s a good simple “device.” Who am I – as in who am I in this conversation?

Now let me digress with another memory and tie the two memories together. Years ago when my daughter was a school kid and I met many moms (and dads), I met two women who made an impression on me. I’m sure neither knows about this impression. Both women are married, have children, and live in expensive large homes. One woman’s house has 23 rooms despite the fact that they are a small family of three people. The mom (I’ll call her Linda). Linda doesn’t work, volunteers part-time in the school her daughter attends and generally keeps to herself. The other woman, I’ll call Mary. Mary runs a multi-million dollar company for which she is part owner. She teaches Sunday school, coaches a sports team, travels internationally and raises multiple children. When someone in the community is down or needs help, Mary is usually involved. I used wonder about this from afar. Why does one person juggle so much and help so many when another person would appear to have time and the resources to do more?

I’ve often told myself, it’s none of my business. I recognize that none of us ever know what goes on behind another person’s door. Who knows? Maybe Linda has health issues, family issues. But it makes me tilt my head in wonder. Am I helpful? What makes one person capable to help and another less so? In younger years, I would have thought it was “resources” but now I’ve come to learn that it isn’t. Clearly even someone with many resources at their disposal might not opt to engage to help. I’ve observed that some people jump in and help while others offer help but stand at the fringe waiting to be told specifically what to do.

When a family crisis takes place, it makes me think about all this again. People rely on some people more than others. So who are the capable ones we lean on? And why do we find one person capable and not another?

I think of my life like rooms of a house, each room representing a part of my life. I think about different relationships I have with people professionally, personally. In each room, I am someone else. I am someone’s sister, daughter, mother, niece, colleague, former boss, neighbor. Who am I in each room?

In one room, I am a consultant to a client who’s been patient and understanding throughout the week. I juggled trying to review and sign a contract with a people I haven’t worked with before during a crazed time. I feel like I learned a lot about someone’s priorities and this was good.

In one “room” I am a daughter. Memories from my childhood have been running strong.

In another room, I am a cousin. I am especially grateful to one cousin who arrived at my dad’s house with a complete hot turkey meal for my family. (Thank you, Helen). We ate, piled back into cars, and back into the hospital. It occurs to me now that someone cleaned up from that meal but I don’t know who or when. (Thanks …) And my gratitude to cousins who travelled out of state to be there for my dad and my family.

In another room, I am a colleague to someone I haven’t known long but have quickly learned I can trust and rely on.

In yet another room, I am a co-writer. Writing and editing a longer piece we’ve worked on for some time now. My co-writer has become one of my most trusted and reliable friends.

In another room, I have an extended family member whose been lashing out at my family with strange behavior. Why and why now I may never know. May it end completely and be replaced with peace.

Most of us juggle many relationships. It can be a trick to quickly calibrate from one role to another. Using the phrase, who am I? has helped me. The phrase works as a simple reminder to recall who I am and think about who I want to be in each situation.

I wander through these rooms, these relationships in my life. I think about who the people are in each setting that can be counted upon when a difficult time hits. I suppose the word, constitution comes to mind. Some people have a stronger constitution; it can take a strong constitution to see difficult situations and keep going. What I’ve noticed is how cold it can feel to keep going, keep moving yet without being able to keep moving, we become less capable in ways.

I want to be one of the capable people. I want to be someone who can be relied on.

I’ve watched my family struggle all week bad news on top of bad news, deep worry, anxiety, lack of sleep and housing in sudden situation it reminds me of the final punch through hard projects. Hard times both pull people together and pull people apart. Stress is a killer. It strikes in uneven flows and uneven ways.

And another observation rolls through my mind showing either lack of sleep or how unrelated events can have threads that bind together to create stories in unexpected ways. On an air flight this week, a passenger became ill and the flight attendants called out asking if anyone was a doctor. At least two people stepped forward to help. One gentleman sat across from me. He assisted, began an IV for the passenger and helped the paramedics get the passenger off the flight as soon as we landed. I didn’t watch the passenger much but watched the man who became the primary doctor. He was patient, appeared kind and unruffled by the event. Another person who I’m sure is highly capable, someone who can be counted on.

Capable and highly capable people, what makes them so? And when does someone decide that they’re not capable to handle some situations and effectively remove themselves from being a resource that is sought after? and even further move themselves to the end of the spectrum to effectively become a resource who drops their responsibilities? Do we decide? Is it our consitution and how does our constitution vary based on the room we’re in?

My mind wanders through these relationships, the calibrating question who am I ? travels with me through each room.

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