So I was in line at the post office yesterday waiting patiently to send a care package to my little sister when I overheard the elderly man behind me talking to the man behind him. He gestured to a sign advertising breast cancer stamps and said, "they do a great job of marketing and raising awareness. My wife has Alzheimer's. I think they need a stamp." And I immediately and unexpectedly choked up. Granted it might have been PMS, but what it *felt* like was gratitude and compassion all smushed together, because while chemo is no picnic, Alzheimer's is brutal.
The compassion part was easy enough to understand, but I think the reason it really got me was that the gratitude I felt was toward cancer. I felt grateful that being in my own vulnerable place made me more open to receive, in that moment, this little divine reminder that everyone is going through it. Life throws you curve balls. We get sick. We lose jobs. Or people. How many folks do we pass every day on the sidewalk, the subway, at the dry cleaners or the supermarket who might have just gotten the worst news they're gonna get all year? The phone call, the letter, the lab report.
Five minutes later it was my turn. I sent my package, finished up at the window, and as I headed out to the car I found myself a few steps ahead of the man. I had this overwhelming urge to reach out to him, but I hesitated. I was a total stranger to him. He might yell, or get offended or think I was some crazy person. And then I figured, ah screw it. I stopped, turned around said "I'm really sorry to hear about your wife." And right there in the post office parking lot, we talked for 20 minutes about his wife and his kids and Alzheimers and how sometimes life works out different than you expect.
So many of my friends will say "I'm having a hard time, but I don't want to complain to you, you have CANCER." This is true. I do have cancer. But that doesn't make your bad day any less sucky. And I love you so I want to hear about what's going on in your life even if it's that your boss yelled at you, or your shoulder hurts or your car needs a new engine. That's what my post office encounter reminded me - that someone always has it worse than you, and it's still okay to feel sorry for yourself sometimes. But (and trust me on this) take 10 minutes for that and then stop, pick up the phone or the laptop and reach out to someone you love to let them know you're thinking of them. It’s better than chocolate. Or chicken apple sausage.