Help from Afar

February 12th, 2021

“They look like shit.”

That was the comment of one of my nieces when she saw a picture of Karin and myself on social media. The photos had been sent by Shawn upon her arrival at our house last Friday. My sister-in-law, Shawn, had flown up from Texas to help us care for little Asher. Shawn showed up at our house at the bitter end of a tumultuous week, and Karin and I were pretty ragged.

Karin and I had not expected that Shawn would suddenly make the long journey to Wisconsin, especially since we were hip-deep in snow, and our local temperatures were the lowest they had been all winter. Shawn had been here before during the depths of winter, but not for a long time. It’s been at least a decade since she made the trip up to the north country.

I guess she was due.

Shawn decided to fly here on the spur of the moment. She has a good friend who let her use her accumulated flight miles to make the trip. Shawn convinced her employers to give her a week off (Shawn cares for an young autistic man). In a way, it seemed pointless to me for Shawn to visit us for only a week, but I was wrong.

It’s hard to describe how tired and lost Karin and I felt a week ago. The girl we love was/is in jail, and we were responsible for the young woman’s two-month-old boy. We had all sorts of people (mostly of the government sort) talking with us or visiting our home. We have a mountain of paperwork to complete, and we really don’t have heads that are clear enough to do it. All of a sudden, Karin and I are parents again, and we are out of practice.

Shawn’s visit was a godsend. She swiftly and effortlessly slid into our routine. Shawn cared for Asher when Karin and I were tired and irritable. She gave us breathing space. Shawn was with us here for a week, and that was enough for us to get a tenuous grip on our new reality.

Shawn is good for conversation. She is smart and she is deep. One morning while we drank strong coffee, I asked her why she came to us. She said,

“I don’t know. I needed to be here. I didn’t know what I would do. I do know how to feed a baby and how to change his diaper. I thought that would be enough.”

It was.

Shawn is a vegan. We’re not. We had to adjust our lives a bit to her presence. That was probably a good thing.

Shawn had many long conversations with Karin and/or with me. We talked about babies. We talked about the Virgin Mary. We talked about Buddhism. We talked about racial violence, sexual abuse, and bad craziness. We have known Shawn for over thirty years. We all have a history together.

Shawn’s presence helped me when I received phone calls with the girl in jail. Those were/are always stressful for me. They reek of fear, guilt, and sorrow. I literally collapse after talking with that young woman. I’m not angry with her. I’m not offended by what she might say. I am just exhausted.

Shawn talked to me after one of the calls. She gave me her perspective, and that helped. Shawn can see and hear different viewpoints.

Shawn and I made one trip outside of our home. We drove up to the east side of Milwaukee and visited one of my friends from the synagogue. We went to Ken’s house. Ken is a writer. He publishes novels. I am a writer (obviously). Shawn is a writer. She is working on a book about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Ken invited us into an empty room in his basement, where we could drink craft beer in a socially distanced way. Shawn doesn’t drink alcohol, so she had tea. Ken’s wife, Julianna, was there too. We all talked about writing. Shawn talked about her Catholic essays. Ken told us about his Jewish stories. Julianna listened and made perceptive comments. (Julianna is a yoga teacher, a woman in serious pain from back surgery, and a Buddhist). It was important for me that Shawn get to meet Ken and Julianna. These people are integral to my life.

Yesterday afternoon I drove Shawn to the airport. She was wearing a scarf, mittens, and a humungous cap that Karin had knit. I pulled up to the American Airlines entrance, and I pulled out her bag.

We stood facing each other on the curb, and we placed the palms of our hands together in gassho. We bowed ever so slightly to each other. We chanted softly,

“Na Mu Myo Ho Ren Ge Kyo”, three times.

She hugged me.

Shawn walked away.

Asher is sleeping next to me. It is a fitful and edgy sleep, but he sleeps.

In the end, it is all about Asher. Shawn’s journey was all about Asher.

I’m tired, and I hear the boy cry out.

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