“The most precious gift we can offer anyone is our attention. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
It was the early 1970s. I was eight and had gotten into an accident near to my childhood home in North London, England.
In a rare moment of tomfoolery, I had been coaxed by a friend to climb a wire fence. I slipped and, as I reached out to stop the fall, a sharp wire pierced my index finger and I was left hanging. Literally.
The friend, greatly distressed by the incident, ran to her home and told no one.
Fortunately, my mother heard my screams and came running.
My hand was quickly wrapped in a towel and I was taken swiftly to the local hospital where my finger was stitched—with much blood, tears, and screams on my part.
I overheard the surgeon explain to my mother that there had been so much internal damage to my finger I would not be able to use it again. He shared that he had considered amputation but concluded it would be emotionally and aesthetically preferable for me to be left with what he called a “dummy finger.”
Incidentally, he was wrong. I have thanked the heavens many times over the years, and continue to do so, that he did not take my finger. I have complete use of it and, apart from the two scars that remain (the wire had gone in and out), there’s no physical sign that anything ever happened.
I didn’t know that then though.
I was taken home from the hospital the same afternoon. Still in shock—scared, traumatised, and in extreme pain.
My parents were working-class people; we had all that we needed but not much else. One of the highlights of the year was what was referred to as my mother’s “work do.” A sparkling evening dress was either recycled, borrowed, or sometimes even bought. My father’s best suit would get its annual airing.
In the weeks leading up to the dinner dance, there was much talk, preparation, and excitement in our home. My mother spoke of little else. This was her one night of the year to dress up and shine.
That year, it was also the evening of my accident. My parents would be going out and I had forgotten.
When we returned home from the hospital, I sat on the couch with my heavily bandaged hand resting on a cushion on my lap. My mother was next to me, cradling me in her arms.
I was safe. My mother was there. I began to calm.
A neighbour had heard of my misfortune and came to visit. She suggested to my mother that she stay with me, instead of the baby-sitter, whilst my parents went to the party.
I froze and panicked at the same time.
My mother was leaving me? What would I do without her by my side? I wanted to cry but tried to be brave.
Then came her reply, which I remember as if it were yesterday: “Of course we’re not going out. I’m not leaving Claire.” As she spoke, she pulled me closer and held me tighter.
I’m 60 and I have tears streaming down my face as I write this.
My mother stayed with me. She was there.
This is what love is, isn’t it?
How often do we not reach out when we see a loved one in pain, because we don’t know what to say and don’t want to make it worse?
How many times do we underestimate the impact of just showing up and being there?
How many times do we appreciate when someone is there for us? Maybe they didn’t say anything profound, maybe they didn’t technically help, but being there was what we needed.
Sometimes, all it takes is to be there.