a beginner’s guide to showing up for people

 

birthday card

I saw a picture the other day – maybe you’ve seen it but if you haven’t, don’t try to google it because it will break your heart in so many ways. It was of an old woman – someone’s grandmother, mother, best friend – wearing a pretty dress and heels, all ready for her first ever art show, except for the sad look on her face. Because no one came.

Even describing it leaves me feeling gutted. Because it reminds me of every time I’ve put off sending an email or forgotten to reply to a Facebook message; of every missed phone call or blown-off conversation because sorry I’m busy. Social media has given us a thousand new ways to connect, and even more ways to let each other down.

Because getting to know somebody is about more than liking their profile picture, and being a good friend takes work. We – the generation that is taught that disinterested equals cool and that double-texting is an automatic red flag – know exactly how to measure out an arm’s length + keep people there. Maybe it’s subconscious, maybe it’s a lack of time or money or stamps and-the-post-office-isn’t-open-right-now. No matter what, we can do better.

2016 will be the year of sending birthday cards on time.

That’s my goal. And I won’t manage to remember all of them or I’ll add a sheepish “belated” to the cover, but I’ll try.

Let’s be the type of people who respond within the day. Let’s make “twenty-something” synonymous with “tries their best + cares about other people.”

I want to be known, and I want the people I care about to feel known – seen, recognized, loved. I hope there never has to be another lonely grandmother or forgotten friend, caught in limbo between cancelled plans and un-returned voice mails.

I want to show up for people – in 7 small ways.

1/ Send the goodbye text. Don’t just disappear from a conversation for hours at a time. Say you’re busy and have to go. Say goodnight even if you’re crawling into bed at 9pm after an awful day. When people do this to me, it makes me feel like I matter. Give yourself closure + tell the other person you care enough to sign off.

2/ Be honest with your no. If you can’t make an event, don’t click “maybe” or “interested” on Facebook. Don’t play ambiguous with other people’s feelings. Be honest + be real + make it when it matters. This also falls into subsection 2a: backing out at the last minute, except in emergencies, is the opposite of kind. Some days are tough but don’t be that person any more than you have to.

3/ Call to check-in. My dad has a black belt in showing up + seeing people. He manages to call my grandpa, aunt, uncle, brother and I each at least once a week – just to say hi. Sundays are reserved for catching up. I, still an apprentice, am trying to manage once every couple weeks. Clear your schedule + your space + just listen for 20 minutes. Golden rule: never reply to “what’s new?” with “oh nothing.” Think of something. My dad knows all about the new app I downloaded to make me drink more water. Dedicate part of your day to being silly + heartfelt + so present in that moment that the other person can hear it in your voice.

4/ Bad days require action. If a friend tells you they aren’t doing so well, be there. Be there via text, easily reachable, if they need to be alone. Or be there in person, eat pizza on the living room floor, and tuck their hair behind their ears while they cry. Don’t mistake a call for help with a random text. People can be melodramatic – show up anyways.

5/ Mark your calendar. I was trying to make plans with a friend – the kind of girl who’s so busy I’m surprised she still finds time to eat + sleep + laugh on the daily – and she put it in her calendar. Our vague, tentative, let’s-do-something-fun-next-Friday was suddenly a real thing. Make space. Block off time. Show people they’re worth it.

6/ Send birthday cards. My grandma had this down since the day I was born and here I am, 21 years later, still forgetting to buy stamps. They don’t have to be the prettiest stationary or written in the fanciest writing. They don’t even have to be delivered in the right month. Tear a page out of an old notebook and scribble down some words. Show someone else that they mean more than just a quick “hbd” post on their Facebook wall at 11:50pm.

7/ Find your people // love them hard. This one is tricky – realizing that you can’t show up for everyone + 8 billion birthday cards means licking way too many envelopes. You can’t take every person you meet on a 5 hour coffee date, catching up about what exactly? Oh right, how we just met. But when you find those people you want to hold the closest, make them feel loved. This isn’t about exclusion or making someone feel left out. It’s about doing what you can + showing up when it matters.

Seven little steps and seven months to go in this year. Let’s keep 2016 real + keep trying our best. I am texting back as soon as I can + putting birthday cards in the mail.

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