There is a somewhat obscure movie called About Schmidt starring Jack Nicholson. In the film Nicholson plays a recent widower who has to find a life and identity for himself, after a lifetime of being reasonably disengaged. Prior to her death, he had predominantly relied on his wife to execute any responsibility of personality.
One night after his despondence began increasing, he finds himself up late watching TV and sees a commercial soliciting money for poor children in a third world country. By donating one is assigned a specific child to begin correspondence with. The remainder of the movie includes letters he sends to the child on the subject “About Schmidt”. As he introduces himself presumably to give the child a sense of who is making a donation, he is simultaneously introducing himself as his own life is evolving.
Shortly after becoming pregnant with my first son, some form of communication came to us, I don’t remember exactly how it began. It was from a friend named Maureen who had shared the same dorm floor with my husband in college. Ben and Maureen stayed in contact loosely over the years, usually through a Christmas card. But somehow, that particular communication introduced Maureen to me and we realized we had much in common. We were both pregnant with our first child; I was due with Alex in January, she was due with Bella in April. Maureen also had a Master’s degree in Social Work.
Over the years, we have exchanged many letters and emails. I next had Andrew, she next had Sarah. We shared tales of motherhood, challenges and joys of being older moms. We talked about growing older, family changes, work and occasionally the state of the world. We offered and still do offer mutual support and reminders of a shared history as we both traverse this stage of life.
But the irony as you’ve probably already guessed is that Maureen and I have never met. It almost happened one time when we were going to be in Kansas City, but unfortunately our travels there were always short stays and already over packed with family obligations. Somewhere along the line, however, Maureen and I have figured out that seeing each other across the table at Starbucks is not a requirement for us to have a meaningful friendship. (I’m pretty sure she is reading this now with a bit of surprise).
I think this kind of a relationship is not necessarily common or easy to find. Historically, I’ve often found it hard for me to stay connected with people I don’t see often. Perhaps one of the things that makes this work more easily is that neither of us has expectations of the other. If too much time passes between exchanges, one of us asks for something at that point and the other grants it, or at least lets us know when we can. And regardless of how much time passes, we seem able to pick right back up in step and move from there.
I’m sharing this post as a way to think about how important it is to have support in one’s life and that it isn’t always necessary that it come from traditional sources. Schmidt found writing to an unknown child when exploring his unfamiliar parts. I write to someone I clearly think of as my friend, having never met. The similarity in both cases is the willingness to share honestly and to give mutually.
Perhaps the most important ingredient in finding support is the willingness to seek it out, or the willingness to accept it when offered. Schmidt could have changed the channel. I could have acknowledged Maureen simply as Ben’s friend and let it drop there.
That type of willingness comes from a belief that you have something of value to share and/or a belief that you deserve to have your thoughts and feelings heard. If you aren’t in that place yet, I encourage you to reach out anyway and let the response of another teach you that it’s so. Perhaps just focusing on giving the gift to another will help you find it within in yourself.
And to Maureen- maybe someday… but until then- Thanks for 16 years.