I pride myself on being decisive.
In a busy pediatric practice, in the practice of motherhood, hesitation is weakness.
But sometimes it’s important to be indecisive and take a breath, to delay a resolution of a problem until you know more, to live awhile in Limbo, powerless to call the shots.
Limbo: an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.
I do my best to avoid that place. It’s an uncomfortable place for me, full of waiting, filled with questions and no answers.
A few days ago, our beloved 14 year old lab, Lou, had taken her usual morning stroll behind the high school with me. Several hours later, my daughter came home from school to find her unresponsive, glassy eyed, breathing, but shaking with each breath. With the help of dear friends, we loaded Lou in the car and headed to the vet. Somehow, they were able to make us feel that late Friday afternoon was an absolutely perfect time for us to come in with a minimally responsive old dog.
The doctor laid out the options for us and for our girl, now a little more aware, but still “with slow mentation.” Clearly something neurologic had happened to add to the challenges her 14 year old lab body was already facing.
I was about to be decisive.
But my daughter pulled me into Limbo. I was going full speed in the other direction, toward a decision, toward resolution. The vet was going with me. But my daughter’s pleading eyes, her tears and desperation stopped us. “Can’t we just see what happens?” she asked. “This just started. She may get better.”
So a few negative x-rays and normal blood works later, we loaded her back into the car and headed home. To Limbo.
And Limbo is not so bad. Here’s what happens there:
Many reach out through texts and social media to say they know just where you are. They’ve been there too. They understand, and they care.
You come home from work and are greeted at the top of the stairs, just like you always are.
You and your husband and sometimes a child or two go on your evening walks around the block, or maybe a quarter of the way around the block, or to the mailbox next door, a little more slowly than usual, or a lot more slowly. Any speed is okay.
Your friend Teresa and her husband Jeff come over (even though it is well after their 9 o’clock bedtime) to help you carry your dog inside after she can’t make it the last few feet after her walk to that mailbox next door.
Your friend Robin decides that rather than attend her favorite Saturday morning yoga class, she will come do yoga in your backyard with your dogs. She knows you can’t be there because you are scheduled to work on a Saturday and your daughter is taking SAT’s and your husband is out of town and both other children are away at school and doing life, and you are stressed. Between handstands and downward dogs, she sends photos of the dogs to you at work, and you shed tears of gratitude between patient visits.
Your neighbor, Jill (a reformed “I am not a dog person” person), comes after Robin leaves. She gives Lou and her buddy some uplifting words of encouragement along with some pats and sends you more photos, so you know they’re okay.
You contemplate other recent examples of limbo:
Your friends in Charlottesville who waited, waited, waited when they heard the news that white supremacists and members of the KKK were going to rally in their town, wondering how they should respond as they waited and prayed, gathering their strength and their outrage, trying to decide what to do with it.
You think of those in Houston and surrounding cities, waiting out Hurricane Harvey, walking, wading, through chest high waters, with children and pets, not knowing what will become of everything they left behind, not knowing where they will be in the next hour, looking up to find a volunteer citizen or a first responder holding out a hand or throwing them a rope, inviting them into a waiting boat going….where?
You think of your friends who have loved and lost a terminally ill child. You wonder how they spent days, months and years in Limbo, wondering “Are we doing the right thing? Should we be doing more? Should we be doing less?” And all the while, they just kept lovingly doing.
You realize that through all these difficult times, when answers are in short supply, God is there always in the form of small kindnesses and friends who care.
Limbo may be scary, but it’s filled with love.
The opposite of limbo is resolution: going back home to a flooded house and finding that it’s gone, along with all of your belongings. Witnessing white supremacists who show up with semi automatic rifles and tiki torches and lethal cars. Caring meticulously and lovingly for your sick child for days and nights and weeks and months and years, then opening a door to an empty bedroom after she is taken too soon.
Limbo does not always evolve into happy endings.
Less than 24 hours before I sat at the vet, on the floor, beside my daughter and my sick dog, I spoke at the Pause for Peace event downtown, organized by the Palmetto Peace Project. Here’s a bit of what I told other people, but failed to remember myself one day later:
“Sometimes the strongest medications I can think of are not strong enough to fix someone.
Sometimes, rather than medicine, it is more powerful to offer outstretched arms
And open ears
And open mind
And open heart.
To take a breath with a family who is hurting.
Healing sometimes involves simply sitting with pain
And acknowledging it,
Rather than fixing pain that is not quite ready to be fixed.”
I should listen to me sometimes.
This morning I woke up no longer in Limbo. There were no imploring eyes, watching me come and go. Had those eyes been in pain? Did they want a walk? Another dose of medicine? Some water? To be carried outside? I think those eyes were asking me to simply sit awhile with hand on head.
Today I woke to a house with a little more peace and a lot more emptiness.
I pray for those who are in Limbo now and those who will wake tomorrow to start the next chapter in their lives, whether with happy endings or sad.
May they be greeted with outstretched arms, and open ears, and open minds, and open hearts.