Just Showing Up

I believe it was Woody Allen that made the statement “80% of success is just showing up”. I think Woody actually knew what he was talking about as far as the importance of just showing up. I’ve had a few experiences where it seemed to make all the difference.

When I was 12 years old (a long, long time ago), my dad was very sick. He had to go to the big city (Minneapolis) far, far away to have open-heart surgery. It didn’t go very well as he had a severe stroke on the operating table and not only had he lost most of the use of the left side of his body, he no longer could speak correctly and had to begin therapy to re-learn how to communicate. After several weeks, he was able to come back home to our small town of Baudette. He was in and out of the hospital over the next few months until his heart just gave out and he died. One of the things that really bothered my mom over those last months of his life was that almost no one showed up to visit my dad. My dad had been so gregarious and outgoing that it seemed everyone knew who he was – even my teachers – so it wasn’t always a great thing for me. He seemed to have so many friends yet they couldn’t find the time to drop by and see dad during his most difficult time. I saw how much it hurt my mom. I figured those so-called friends were just bad people and they really weren’t my dad’s friends.

Some years later I got to see things from a different perspective. The summer after I graduated from high school, a classmate of mine, John Mitchell, the star athlete, was in a horrible car accident. John had fallen asleep at the wheel, gone off the road, hit an embankment and broke his neck. They took him by ambulance to Grand Forks, North Dakota and then on to Fargo, North Dakota when they evaluated the severity of his injuries. Over the next days that grew into weeks, a small army of professionals worked to keep John alive and then to try to put him back together again. I kept up with John’s family members to see how he was doing but I was so busy working and getting ready for my first year of college, I never found the time to get over and see him. Before I knew it, school was starting and I was going to classes and meeting new friends. I still hadn’t gotten over to see John but I kept up with how he was doing as one of my roommates, Brian, was John’s best friend and he had made several trips to see John. Whenever Brian was headed over to Fargo to see John he would invite me. Of course I was too busy with all the stuff I had going on in my life. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t too busy, I was afraid. I was afraid because I didn’t know what to expect when I would see John. I didn’t know how I should act or what I should say. We used to talk sports but how do you talk about sports to an athlete that will never be able to walk again. I might talk about all the new things I had going on in my life but John was still fighting for his life every day so that didn’t seem right either. Most of all, I didn’t know what I would say to John when he asked why I hadn’t come to see him in the months after his accident.

Well, my guilt got the best of me, and the next time Brian headed over to see John in the hospital, I went along. It wasn’t easy. John was still John but he looked different. He had big scars around his forehead where they had used traction to pull his head and neck back into place. He hands were bent and looked funny as he’d not used them since the accident. But I was so glad I went. John kept the conversation light and worked to keep me comfortable. He never asked me why I hadn’t come to see him but he did make a special point to say how much he appreciated that I had come to see him – and how I was always welcome to come for a visit. Six months after the accident, John came back home to Baudette. From then on I would always drop by to see John whenever I passed through town. I became better friends with John after the accident than we had been before and I stayed in contact with him until he passed away nearly 20 year later. He shared with me the impact it had whenever people would stop by and how he learned to understand when people were too uncomfortable to come visit. I’ve had my own share of experiences over the years where I’ve seen that showing up to see someone in need seems to make all the difference.

About a year and a half ago, my brother Dave was very sick. He was diagnosed with advanced liver cancer and was given just months to live. He headed home to Thief River Falls to live out his remaining time. There were several things that he asked me to take care of and I began making plans as to when I would head up that way. I had a vacation scheduled for the next week and I figured that after that, I would head up to Dave’s place and get power-of-attorney and his will completed as well as other tasks that needed to get done. My wife wisely reminded me that time with Dave was more important than getting a vacation in so I headed up north to get things started. I got there in the evening and we visited and had a bowl of ice cream (my favorite food group). The next morning I got down to business and was preparing documents. Dave and I were visiting on the couch and planning our approach. At that moment, we found out that the doctor’s estimate of Dave’s time was not months but days and he passed away in my arms. I was able to be there and comfort him as we said goodbye one last time. I am so thankful that I had showed up when he needed me to be there.

I also know there are times when we think showing up doesn’t matter because people don’t really know we are there. People always know we are there even if we can see it. My mom now has advanced stages of Alzheimer’s disease. She doesn’t remember anyone anymore. She doesn’t even remember many of her words anymore; a lot of the words she uses are made up. When she and I get gabbing it sounds like a couple of Klingons (from Star Trek) having a conversation. She still loves to sing although it’s unlikely you will recognize many of the words she sings. One day I showed up and she was singing away. She had a piece of paper in her hand and was moving her finger along on the page as she sang. I assumed that she had hung on to a song booklet from a church service and was reading that – turns out it was actually an ad for tires from the local newspaper. I guess she was singing about Firestone and Goodyear. Mom is still a very happy person and that’s really all I hope for at this point. Just this last January was mom’s 90th birthday. I went to see her after work on her birthday and sang Happy Birthday to her; she happily sang right along with me (although the words she was using were not the same ones I was singing). After a nice visit, I told her I had to get home and I would see her again soon. I leaned in to give her a hug and kiss her goodbye. Mom reached out and touched my arm, looked in my eyes, and completely coherently said “I love you Don”. It was like she came back to me from so far away for that brief instance. I am so thankful that I just showed up on Mom’s birthday.

Don’t ever think that you don’t have an impact when you show up for someone. Everything you do has an impact so you must continue to do the things that matter. If you’re lucky like me, you will find that the gift you receive is greater than the one you give. Just remember to show up.

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