I spent an afternoon about five years ago with a casual friend. Nothing unusual in that, except we were in an outpatient cancer clinic, where she was having a chemotherapy treatment for metastatic breast cancer. Midway through, she suddenly pulled off her knitted cap, as though she had borne the heat and itchiness of it long enough for my benefit. I was shocked, although I expected it, to see her pale fuzzy head. The baldness made her look even thinner and more fragile. I felt confronted by her mortality—and my own.
I played this small part in a brigade her closer friends had organized to help her through the ordeal of treatments. They created a schedule of shifts members of the group took alternately, so she never had to go to those appointments alone. I was glad to have done it once, even if a few hours seemed like a single drop in a big bucket against what she endured the last years of her life.
But sometimes one drop in the big bucket of need is the most we can give, or the most, under the circumstances, that seems appropriate. When friends band together, their influence on a situation no one could tackle single-handedly is significant. A limited effort can be enough, if it makes up part of a larger whole.
I remember seeing a newscast about an how an Amish community responded when a neighbor’s roof was blown off in a storm. The reporter had apparently climbed a ladder and was poised alongside several women wearing plain cotton dresses with their hair pinned discretely into bonnets. They were on the roof, wielding hammers. “Well,” one of them was saying, as though stating something almost too obvious to put into words, “It would be very hard for him to do this job alone, wouldn’t it? We can all do it together.” She drove another nail deftly into a shingle.
They didn't look the part, with bonnet strings ruffling in the breeze and sturdy street shoes braced against the rubber underlayment, but they were installing that roof, nonetheless, and doing a decent job of it.
When you have a friend who must face an extraordinary hardship, think of those women and pull together to share the responsibility. We all need "rooftop friends" during life's most upending challenges. Then the labor of care will not overwhelm any one friend. Taking part in such an effort not only feels good, it makes you stronger and more able to face your own difficulties.
Lotsa Helping Hands is an online resource that provides an easy way to organize rooftop friends. If you do, write an All-Weather Friend guest blog. Send photos. Tell how you did it. I'll publish your story, and you'll inspire others to do the same.