FALLING AWAKE | Just reach out

I’ve been lying on the couch, sick with the flu.

It’s the coughing, lightheaded, feverish flu that you’ve either caught by now or fear that you will.

I haven’t been outside in a week. I can barely sit up long enough to write this.

I know to rest, drink plenty of liquids, be patient.

But I will never be a patient sick person. I want to be a patient sick person, patient enough to luxuriously catch up with Netflix, patient enough to make home-made soup. Patient enough to put my work aside and surrender without fear or complaint. 

But none of this is easy for me. I get so bored watching TV and I have a really short attention span in the kitchen. Sick as I am, I still want to write something that reveals more of who I am, of what I really think. I still try to tap into the part of my brain that drives my work, how I face the empty page. 

I feel a bit of relief as I try to think of something worth thinking about. 

I even marvel at my effort. 

But the truth is, I have flu brain. I can’t even remember what day of the week it is. I’m just going to have to trust that my mental capacity will come back. God knows when, but it will.

In the meantime, I have an elderly neighbor who is sicker than I am. I know because I can hear him coughing through the wall we share. It’s the same cough I have, but worse. It’s so bad, it reminds me of something my mother said years ago when she was in her fifties and she had the flu and I remember her coughing and coughing and crying out to my dad that she was too young to die. 

And without thinking he said, “Well, you’re already too old to die young,” and if looks could kill, they surely would have. But she didn’t yell at him, which was so unlike her. I think it’s because she’d spent so many years being annoyed at him for one thing or another and she just didn’t have the energy to be any more annoyed. I felt so bad for her that I sat on her bed and rubbed her back and let her cry. 

Now, here’s something I can do. It’s next to nothing on my part, but I can bring my neighbor a bowl of the not-too-terrible soup I made (almost) from scratch. Because this flu, it’s not a cold, people, it’s so much worse. And while most of my neighbors are not elderly and living alone, this one is.

It’s been a year since his partner of thirty years died. They used to hold hands in the elevator and just being in their presence made you feel like their affection was a validation of never-giving-up, and positively hopeful about love-springing-eternal. 

It’s hard to begin to explain how much Belltown has changed in the last couple of years. And I think in this increasingly-transient Amazon-campus my neighborhood has turned into, we need to remind ourselves that we are neighbors now more than ever. Just so we might be able to offer each other the best generosity we still have to give. Nothing beats reaching out a hand to a neighbor when we can. 

P.S. I brought my neighbor the soup, and, between coughing bouts, he was tickled pink. And when I said, “We’re neighbors and we’re in this flu thing together,” you should have seen the look on his face. The effect of my words was instant. They seemed to warm his chilled body to the bone.

Helping someone worse off than me is good enough medicine for today. It lifted me up. It showed me that even with my head about to explode, sharing is possible. It made me feel connected to this larger community of people living inside of my Vine Street building.

And now that I’ve hung this 680-word star in my sky, it’s right back to the couch for me.

MARY LOU SANELLI is a poet, speaker and author of nonfiction. Her collection of essays, “A Woman Writing,” is available from Aequitas Books. She can be reached at www.marylousanelli.com.