Somehow, I’d ended up in office supply store. Like a migratory bird, I head to the nearest Office Max when shit gets overwhelming. There, I wander the aisles of dry erase markers, college ruled notebooks, staplers, and jars filled with coffee room snacks until I reach a trance-like state of equilibrium.
It was midafternoon, nearly time for me to retrieve my middle schooler, so the place was empty. The AC either wasn’t working or had been turned off optimistically in anticipation of the cooler fall weather that still hadn’t arrived. It was hot and silent, almost meditative. Like Bikram yoga, but without the pretzel-like contortions.
If you’re a person who carries trauma not just in her memories but in her DNA, mitochondrial grief passed from grandmother to grandmother, simply navigating day to day life can be tricky. It’s a dance; you learn it. But there are days when you feel as though your carefully built up calluses have been pumiced right down to the tender pink, and everything, everything hurts. So, you end with a basketful of mechanical pencils and a new journal. You don’t need it – there are three sitting in your drawer at home, but this one has brightly colored popsicles all over it and it makes you think of summer when you were a kid.
As I stood contemplating the printable mailing labels, I spotted another woman who looked like she, too, might have been shopping for therapeutic stationary. I recognized the ever-so-slightly slackened jaw and mildly glazed stare of someone looking to medicate with purple gel pens. In a totally uncharacteristic burst of social behavior, I caught her eye. “How’s it going?” I asked. “Everything okay?” “Thanks,” she answered, with a watery smile. “It’s been rough.” Neither of us felt the need to explain. We just got each other. “Tell me about it,” I said. “You hang in there.” “You, too.” And we went our separate ways, buoyed by the contact and the gift of solidarity.
See, sympathy is when you see someone who is maybe about to lose it and you go, “Aw, that is too bad.” You feel compassion and pity. Empathy is when you see that person and think, “I know what that feels like.” You imagine yourself in her place. Solidarity, though, that’s something else. When you offer solidarity, and allow yourself to receive it, you are seen and heard and understood. And you’re standing with the ones who are tired and valiant and longing for connection. That woman in the Office Max and I saw each other’s struggle, just for a moment, and we stood together. I’m not giving up. Neither are you. Respect, sister.