Coming in from the rain

In my last column, I wrote about getting drenched. I said that the sky above our family was falling and our roof was leaking. Since that column, our monsoon has thankfully passed. My family is dry, and we are together.

I mentioned the buckets we placed to stave off flooding. Today, I want to tell you about the umbrellas that shielded us from the worst of the storm. They do not, cannot, mop up the messiness of our lives, collect our pain in buckets and hope it will be meaningful in the end. Instead, they allow us to stand right in the middle of our cluttered chaos and protect us from the discomfort of being soaked.

This column is meant to celebrate them, the umbrellas in our lives. Here are a few examples of mine:

One friend texts me silly things or one-line messages that don't require responses. When I am overwhelmed and spinning all my plates, if my text alert sounds, I grab my phone with annoyance, bracing myself for the next demand. Instead, I see Chandler Bing dancing his dorky dance. I can't help but pause and smile.

Friends who don't ask permission before they help. A colleague made meals for my family when my dad was in the hospital. I could have figured out dinner for my husband and kids, could have cooked something simple or ordered carry-out. But this friend literally just handed me bags of filled Tupperware after work.

If she'd asked beforehand if she could help me in this way, I would have politely declined, uncomfortable at the thought of someone going out of their way for us. But when I was handed those bags, when the meals were already lovingly prepared and ready to go, I accepted them gratefully.

Some umbrellas are invisible and quiet, as if they know exactly when you need to pull into yourself and focus on keeping it together, on getting through the downpour at hand. Some friends instinctively know when to ask questions and when to wrap us in loving silence. This one is hard, I think, because we fear that if we don't ask the questions, we may be thought to be indifferent. But when the bond is strong, the understanding is deep. Sometimes the language of friendship is quiet. When the need to talk bubbles up, there is nothing indifferent about these friends. They listen.

An unexpected umbrella is a woman with whom I don't communicate often enough. When she called to catch up, she told me about her own deluge. She shared her emotions, her fatigue. And in listening, I realized how connected we were, how she trusted me to be there for her. She was unafraid to reveal her humanity, her fear, and she emboldened me to do the same. In reaching for an umbrella, she became one herself. Protector and protected, in one beautiful friend.

With heartfelt gratitude to my friends, my umbrellas.

- Kelly Abate Kallas of Hinsdale is a contributing columnist. Readers can email her at [email protected].