When our son was an infant, he became very ill with a mysterious gastro-intestinal disorder that no one in the medical world could figure out.
He was in an out of the hospital so often during this period, that our overnight bags were always packed. When home, whether for a week or ten days, he was hooked up to various machines that fed him intravenously and beeped loudly when they thought they detected an obstruction.
This period of our life was the Year of NO.
No knowing how long it would last.
No “normal” baby milestones.
No guarantees of recovery.
And somehow, during this extremely difficult time of NO, we managed to miraculously say YES to any and all offers of support – and to actually CREATE support where there was none.
If our friends stopped by on their way to visit family across the country and offered to cook up a stack of meals and deep clean our kitchen, we gratefully said YES.
If someone offered to bring over dessert and have tea with us on the same dining room table where the baby was splayed out while I hooked him up to his evening tubes, we said YES.
If someone wanted to take a turn cuddling him while at the hospital, or bottle feeding him the latest disgusting formula to see if it would stay down, we said YES. Washing dishes? Sterilizing bottles? Mowing the lawn? Calling the phone company? YES. YES. YES. YES. YES.
Not only did we do this unprecedented and unlikely thing, but we went another radical step further and HIRED A CHEF! This chef, whom we found online, would come over on Sunday afternoons and cook up a week’s worth of delicious, freezable meals for us to defrost every day.
Yes, we were extremely lucky to have the resources to do so. However, only a few months out of grad school, we actually had little disposable income and hardly any savings.
Yet, somehow, during our year of NO, we had the uncanny wisdom to see that we were in a dangerous state of zombie apocalypse every evening, which resulted in greasy takeout or frozen dinners, further enhancing our zombie state.
And the best part is that we had NO SHAME.
Mind you, at any other time in our life, this would have been impossible. In our family, guests were doted upon – and certainly not allowed near the kitchen sink. Friends were entertained while children were tucked away in their cribs, not displayed in all their medical glory on the table.
In our previous life, and in the future life which followed that period, we were STRONG. We could do it all by OURSELVES. We deep cleaned until you could see your freckles in the bathroom faucet. We threw themed parties with rad finger foods and butcher paper on the walls that guests could paint. We did the supporting, not the other way around. And we certainly did not HIRE people to make us food.
But in our year of NO, we had a sick baby and each other to take care of. We had to do more than survive. We had to find a way to say YES to life.
Now, 18 years later, we find ourselves in another Time of NO.
For some of us, there is:
For many of us, there are:
No knowing how long it will last
And again, my husband and I find ourselves needing to move beyond what is customary and usual – to move beyond the pretense of safety and independence that keep us both lonely and hidden. We find ourselves needing to be more deliberate, assertive, and yes – courageous – in figuring out what feeds us, what helps us feel better, and what gets in the way of us going for it.
We find ourselves asking, in small wavering voices at first, and then in louder and more confident voices as others join in: What supports do we need? What are the barriers in the way? How do we band together to find the YES behind every chorus of NO?
This means enlisting other people (ugh-how cringe-worthy) and making agreements with them to reach out to us, to hold us accountable, to poke us, to problem-solve with us, to hold the tiny trembling embers of our intention with us.
Because the thing we actually want to do most in a time of NO is hide from everyone and everything that is life-giving and say YES to nothing.
The examples of what is most supportive and how to band with others to get there will be different for everyone.
So far, for me, it has meant figuring out a list of what feeds me and taking it one item at a time.
For instance, writing is one of the things that feeds me but I have not written for four months. So, I began by sorting out what has supported my writing in the past, what has gotten in the way, why it is not working right now, and what may help me get out of the slump; then making some false starts that led nowhere; talking to a friend about it; bumping into and purchasing the Right to Write by Julia Cameron; figuring out what I need in order to do the exercises in the book successfully; making multiple failed attempts to create 30 minutes of uninterrupted morning time to do the exercises; and finally, with agreements from family, creating the 30 minutes of time, doing the exercises, and Woo-Hoo – writing this essay!
Another example has been the scheduling of specific weekly support calls with two friends by phone (instead of Zoom) so I could walk outside while talking to them and so I did not have to reach out to them when I feel low, because that is the one thing I won’t do when I feel low.
The examples are not important. What is important is asking the questions and saying YES to the small shy answers we hear, saying YES to our children’s attempts to find what works for them, saying YES to creating support and accountability from people we trust.
For me, saying YES to support in a time of NO feels both scary and celebratory, both counter-intuitive and totally instinctual. It is a stretch into the unknown and a tiny act of rebellion against the darkness.