A few years ago, my best friend’s dad had a stroke. She, her husband, and daughter happened to be visiting him in Hawaii at the time. It was the worst kind of roller coaster ride where they didn’t know if he was going to make it.
Gretchen was exhausted being at the hospital day and night, meeting with doctors, one day thinking he was going to make it, another day his condition looking pretty grim. What was supposed to be a two-week trip turned into two-months.
I was at home in Colorado at the time, so it was four or five hours earlier for Gretchen than it was for me. Every day, sometimes several times a day, we left each other Voxers. Voxer is an app where you leave each other voice messages. They can be long ones, up to fifteen minutes each. There’s no limit, so when time runs out, you just start another message.
In these Voxers, I listened to Gretchen and tracked what she was going through every day — cried with her, reflected back to her how hard this was, told her what an amazing job she was doing, reminded her of memories and things her dad had said, reminded her to eat, though she barely wanted any food, and I sang her John Denver songs because we both love John Denver and the lyrics are comforting.
She told me the most intimate details of the conversations with doctors, and the day-to-day decisions. She told me about the moment she asked her dad if he wanted to go home, and how fiercely he nodded yes. And she said, “That means you’ll go home to die.” And he nodded emphatically. So much of his communication had been unclear given the effects of his stroke. But his wishes to go home were entirely clear.
Our Voxers continued and I helped make some arrangements but mostly I just kept listening, holding her experience in my heart — the vast poignancy of it — and kept reflecting back all that she was going through.
Of course the conversations were difficult, and emotional, but on the other hand, it was one of the easiest ways for me to be there for her. Because it’s IN me to do that. It’s not easy for me because I’m a trained psychotherapist, although this helps with skills of course. It’s easy for me because this is how my Native Genius — the engine of my intelligence — works.
I texted Gretchen this piece of writing and asked her if it was OK if I shared it. I also asked if it sounded like I was bragging about my Native Geniuses. Here’s what she texted back…
No. It’s perfect. (I am in the bath writing to u.)
You forgot something that is in your NG that was one of the MOST important things you did. You laughed. You let yourself be silly and vulnerable too. We totally cried but we also made jokes. Say something about our irreverent jokes and hysterical laughter. I remember sometimes howling w/ tears, and sometimes doubled over laughing when I was leaving a Voxer.
Like when we couldn’t remember the name of the cremation chamber (it’s called a “retort”) and we called it the oven. And when you sang the John Denver songs it was vulnerable bc it’s not like you are a confident singer. And it was funny. And you told me ordinary stuff like what you had for lunch which was very comforting just to be a part of a world that was not the ICU or watching my beloved dad die in the living room. Those Voxers saved me, and allowed me a space to be real.
There are so many other times where my friends or family need something different, and I feel a bit lost for how to be there for them. For example, when people have babies or get sick, it’s nice to take food over. I’m the worst at this. I never know what to make and I fumble around with the logistics. For me, cooking is a My Eyes Glaze Over (MEGO™) task, so I want to avoid it at all costs and it often makes me grumpy. For some people this is the easiest thing in the world to do and it’s a My Eyes Light Up (MELU™) task.
When we show love with our MELUs, the receiver gets the thing we’re doing — sure — but they get more than that. They get the shimmer of what we feel when we’re doing the “work.” The energy of us doing the “work” is contagious in the best possible way. That is truly sharing love.
Some of my brother’s Native Geniuses relate to building and fixing things. He’s self-taught. There’s almost nothing he can’t figure out or build, including putting a palm tree in the middle of his swimming pool. A few months ago, we had a health scare with my dad. It was a false alarm, but for a few weeks, we all thought it was real. One of the first things my brother said is, “Dad, I’ll come down and set up things around your house to make it easier. We’ll figure this out.”
How we love each other best is through our Native Geniuses. It’s magical when our Native Geniuses line up with how our friends and family like to receive love — that’s when the medicine we have to give is exactly the medicine they need.
By sharing this story about Gretchen and me, I’m not saying this is how to love someone. There’s no recipe for that. I’m saying that the way that’s easy for me to show love is the way Gretchen likes being loved. That’s one of the reasons we’re like sisters.
Gary Chapman’s book, The Five Love Languages, points us to some of what I’m talking about. I find his categories super helpful: words of affirmation, acts of service, quality time, gifts, and physical touch. However, our Native Geniuses — yours and mine — aren’t packaged in ready-made categories (or ready made-jobs for that matter). Some of our Native Geniuses might not fit into these Love Language categories, or they’re nuanced within a category or cross over among the categories.
Your Native Genius isn’t a single category, it’s a magical world consisting of the way the engine of your intelligence works. It’s utterly unique in all the world. So go show someone you love them, in the ways only you can.