I broke yesterday. Just really shattered in heart and mind and spirit. It had been a long week, lots of deadlines and not much sleep. It had been a long day, 90 minutes driving into the village and on muddy roads. The teaching went well, really well I think. But lunch had been late by an hour so Thoko had asked me to keep the teaching going. We answered all the questions about the training, and then we sat and answered everyone’s health questions for an extra hour or so. I liked helping people, but there were some things which were hard – a baby who wasn’t growing well, a man who needed an inhaler and the local hospital couldn’t find one for him. We talked with Thoko afterward, and made a plan to see which people we could help. Our money was stretched thin, we were running out of cash. We had to decide together who could be helped and how.
And then we started driving home. Nixon told us to take a different road from usual because the rains had washed out our usual path. Then we got lost. As roads turned to maize fields and things looked more and more familiar, I felt like I was hanging on by a thread. It wasn’t just things in Malawi which were difficult right now. Last night, I learned that a dear friend was critically injured from an unexpected accident. She was going in for a second surgery today, and the trauma team still didn’t know how things would turn out. I unconsciously touched the ring hanging on the necklace around my neck. I wear a copy of my brother’s ring every year around this time, a reminder of the fragility of life, a reminder to focus on what is most important.
And then I get a message from my one of my missionary friend’s husbands. “She’s in the hospital. She collapsed on the road.” I text him that we are driving back from the village and I can’t get to the hospital to see her right now. I try to call her. Neither of our words get through. Then I run out of minutes to call. A motorcycle crashed into her car. She collapsed from the stress. I could relate; I was starting to lose control of my own stress reactions.
The road was difficult, jarring us every meter or so. And we still weren’t sure we were on the right road. I had forgotten my lumbar support pillow and my chronic back pain was acting up in addition to everything else. Greg finally said something, an innocent comment about how difficult driving was right now. That was my breaking point – I just started wailing. I couldn’t take the pain and uncertainty in my closest friends, friends I wanted to help but was far away from. The feeling of being lost, the feeling of being overextended, the feeling of being jarred by the road and pinched physically and emotionally and mentally. I simmered to a whimper, apologizing to Greg every few breaths.
I want Greg to feel like he is allowed to express his frustration. I know that I shouldn’t rely on his strength so much that it is all that is holding me together. I try so hard to build rest and resilience into my life. I want to be there for my friends. But I myself was breaking at that moment.
In the end, we found our way and got back home. Hours after we planned, but safely home. Interestingly, it was the call of another friend along the road that helped. She wanted to discuss another community training. We had planned to meet tomorrow. Her call gave me a chance to say that I was overextended. Could we meet another day? I wanted a chance to rest tomorrow. Things didn’t get better all at once. But little by little we got through the crisis. My other friend was discharged from the hospital. We brought her kids pizza. We called the daughter of my other friend, the surgeons weren’t saying how the procedure went, but at least she was stable. I stayed up late again, but I submitted some projects by their deadlines, and I made plans to take space away from certain work the following week.
I don’t like the hard times. I don’t like admitting that I hit my breaking point in spite of all my attempts at boundaries and margin and rest.But this isn’t an easy road we tread, and sometimes the sickness hits close to home.