In the waiting room of the clinic where poisonous radiation is shot directly into my best friend’s cancer everyday, there is always a table with an unfinished puzzle on top, begging for attention. As patients come in, they work on the puzzle while they wait their turn under the big, angry laser. And when each puzzle is finished, it’s framed and hung with the hundreds of others already lining the walls.
Sure, it’s a good waiting room pastime. It’s also a metaphor. A puzzle is just a cardboard picture chopped up, exploded into lots of little pieces, and then put back together. Cancer is the cardboard, radiation is the explosion, and once again, with help, we put the cells back together in an order more conducive to life.
It’s a metaphor for a lot of things, really. We all know what it feels like, the explosion. The feeling of being chopped into hundreds of little pieces and fearing we’ll never get the whole thing back together the way it’s meant to be. Sometimes, in the end, we’re able to right the ship on our own. But most of the time, we need a hand. And as I examined the true meaning of friendship today, knowing that my friend is in a fight for her life, we talked about what a friend can and should be.
The answer was sort of blissfully simple: A true friend is a person who can help you put all the pieces of the puzzle back together without looking at the front of the box.
Friends know what we need. It doesn’t always mean they can solve the problem. But they can show up when life explodes. Truth be told, it’s the TRUE friends who just show up. That’s the most important part. They walk in and see the mess and they just start cleaning, no explanation necessary. This physically happened to me once. I’d just found out the LOVE of my life who I was DEFINITELY marrying had in fact cheated on me with the one person I hoped and prayed it wouldn’t be. I called my friend from my dorm room, blathering and hysterical, zero sentences and even fewer recognizable words. She raced to my side, and you know what she did? She cleaned my room while I cried on the bed. No encouraging words to me or hurling insults at him. Silent, and quite spirited, cleaning. Then, she ordered me a pizza. She couldn’t fix the hurt, and she couldn’t murder the boy, so she just showed up. It was one of the greatest acts of true friendship I’ve ever experienced.
Brene Brown talks about the fact that acknowledging, simply picking up the phone, can be all a friendship needs to survive. Whether it’s cancer, a divorce, a death, a lost job, or a lost hope, the phone call, the knowing that someone has your back…it’s better than anything. It’s the someone who knows our pieces, and knows where they go, and who can do it without the starting pistol sounding or the green light. And you don’t need to know the person for a long time in order for them to know your puzzle. Some people we meet and we know it from day one, where all the pieces go. That’s true of my friend. We immediately recognized each other’s puzzles, and when tragedy struck, we got to work.
I will continue to show up for her, pick up her pieces, and probably order her pizza. And hold her hair when she pukes it back up. (That’s also required, in true friendship.)