Try saying yes to people in the coming yearPublished 4:00pm Saturday, December 28, 2013
Column: Pass the Hot Dish By Alexandra Kloster
I knew something had changed when all the elderly people jumped in the pool and I stayed.
It was Christmas Eve, and I was taking a few minutes for myself to swim laps when a silver-haired gentleman in better shape than I am started lifting the lines out of the pool. What the heck is this, “Cocoon”? I thought, but I stayed.
A lady started in my direction. As she glided toward me I wondered how anyone managed to appear elegant dragging a foam noodle behind her, but she did. “Well, you’re the youngest one here! I’m called Betty,” she said.
“Betty, when you call me, you can call me, Al.” I said, amused with myself.
She didn’t seem to get my reference. It didn’t matter. She was Betty in a pool with diamond earrings, and I liked her immediately. “Betty, what is going on here?”
“Water aerobics,” she said, “are you staying?” I stayed and had a blast.
That kind of thing has been happening all year. This is the year I said things I never thought I’d say. Having kids will do that to you.
“Gertie, you may not electrocute yourself just because it’s fun.”
“Clara, why are you screaming? It’s only bubble bath not a vat of acid!”
But the most surprising thing I started saying this year was, “Yes.”
I’ve always known how to say, “No.” When I was being born I looked up at the obstetrician and said, “No, thanks, I got this.” I never had to learn how to be alone as so many magazine articles phrase it. When I was a child I loved being holed up in my playroom working on my light installation art and my memoir. All right, we’re talking Lite Brite and Dr. Seuss’ “Book About Me,” but I was very happy doing these things alone. I liked playing with other children, but they weren’t necessary.
That simple joy of solitude turned into isolation. That’s the kind of adult I grew into. I thought it was a sign of strength to say no, to handle my problems alone and never ask for help. Consequently, some problems didn’t get handled very well because “one is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do” and “no is the saddest experience you’ll ever know.” I thought other people just made life messy. I guess you could say I grew up into kind of an idiot.
Shortly into 2013, I found myself in the midst of a personal crisis that I couldn’t fix by myself. I needed to invite other people into my storm before I could quell it. I knew there were people willing to help, but I’d never learned to say yes to help.
Perhaps it did take strength to do things alone, but it took courage for me to say “Help me if you can, I’m feeling down. And I do appreciate you being ’round. Help me get my feet back on the ground. Won’t you please, please help me?”
Once I did say it, loved ones flew to my side. My husband, my in-laws, my sisters, my parents, my friends, all of them were astounded that I was saying, “yes” to them.
Yes, please help me with the twins. Yes, I will take your advice. Yes, thank you, I would love for you to cook for me. Yes, I will listen. Yes, I was wrong. Yes, you were right.
Yes. Yes. Yes.
It was healing and I did heal. Months passed, and I got stronger, but this was real strength. Strength grounded in vulnerability and relationships, the kind of strength that comes from taking chances and living in that risky space of uncertainty, all that glorious mess that comes from letting people in. Life filled up, and I realized that “alone is alone, not alive.”
I still like my solitude. I relish a few minutes in a quiet room with a good book. The difference is that I finally understand that solitude and the armor of isolation are far from the same thing. Solitude is restorative. Isolation just haunts you with echoes of your own self doubt.
Friends, if you’re like me and you’ve gotten way too good at saying no, try just a little yes in 2014 and see what happens. It could change your life. It changed mine. After all, “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.”
Happy New Year and thank you to Paul Simon, Three Dog Night, The Beatles, Stephen Sondheim and Barbra Streisand, respectively, for their unwitting participation in this column.
Woodbury resident Alexandra Kloster appears every other Sunday. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, and her blog is at alexandrakloster.com.