This is a story about donuts.
Yesterday, I spent much of my morning trying really hard to stop crying. Without success. Because, friends, apparently sometimes we just have feelings. And apparently some of these feelings simply have to happen. You’ll know the requisite-expression variety when no amount of stifling works to vanquish them. So, paying heed, I simply sat down and sobbed.
When you have the kinds of feelings I did yesterday, there’s no sense of up or down; it feels like you’re falling. I didn’t know where or how, or even if I would ever land, and it scared me. I’m a happy person, you know? And I hate to brag, but I have an outstanding bag of tricks for managing feelings and navigating difficult experiences. Still, every magic wand I have was powerless against the raw realness of my day. Terrifying.
Of course the loneliness in these moments feels desolate. Undiluted emotion can be alienating—it requires a rare courage to be able to sit with someone while they’re falling apart (see here for a tale about one such person). You have girlfriends, you have a sister, you have plenty of people strong enough to sit with you, but you still feel painfully alone.
Desperate for a break from the fearsome falling, I called Brian. “I just wanted to tune into your energy for a minute,” I said, weeping. I didn’t ask him to come home. In fact, I told him not to and meant it, but 20 minutes later, he walked in the front door full of lightness and compassion. He quietly held me while I soaked his dress shirt with tears and then fell asleep in the afternoon light of our bedroom. When I woke, my feelings were a different color than before. They’d seen the light and had a witness, and it helped.
But this story is about donuts.
Liz is one of my oldest friends and lives just a few miles away, yet we hadn’t spent time together in way too long. So when we found ourselves sitting at the bar of Fat Rice in Logan Square (shout out to the beef heart salad, y’all!), the drinks and the conversation flowing, I could scarcely remember the terror of my emotional vertigo just a few hours earlier.
“I almost cancelled tonight,” I confessed. “I had such a weirdly difficult day and I’m exhausted and I didn’t think I’d be any fun for you to be with.”
“I am so glad you didn’t cancel,” she told me. “I would want to be with you however you were.”
We ate, we drank. And then Liz presented me with a glorious white bag.
“Donuts,” she said. “For you.”
She knew I’d been having a lot of feelings lately. And somewhere in the recesses of her memory, she called up the one thing I know to be true in this world: Donuts = happiness.
I don’t talk about donuts a lot—not nearly as much as I talk about bouncy houses. And I don’t recall ever dropping any hints that “you know, if you ever want to cheer me up, go spend too much money on gourmet donuts and bring them to me.” (In case you want to get in on this Chicago-rific donut party, I usually brake for Do-Rite Donuts, and I now know that Stan’s Donuts, too, has magical healing properties.)
I opened the white bag. In it were three of the most beautiful buttermilky, fried-just-so cake donuts in pistachio, vanilla and blueberry. Not only did Liz remember that I love donuts, but also that they darn well better be cake—not yeast—donuts. And that pistachio-flavored treats are my jam.
I started crying. And squealing unintelligibly. And crying more.
What else could I have done? I had to pay heed. And so I ended my day the way I started it. In tears.
A couple of very courageous people showed me they’re in this with me in simple yet profound ways and, as a result, there are a few more things I know to be true: I am seen. I am known. I am valued.
I suppose it doesn’t take an overture to show someone you see and value them. In my case, a little time, open arms and three donuts had an extraordinary impact. And today it has me thinking: “What can I do to show Brian and Liz—and everyone else I love—that I really see them?”
For now, all I can think to do is pray. So today I’m praying this simple prayer for Brian, Liz and for you:
May you see and feel seen, know and be known, love and be loved.
And, as long as I’m talking to God:
May you receive your own version of epicurean cake donuts when you most need them and pay heed to the fullest expression of your feelings when it happens.