No one likes a show-off. I prefer show-ups.
Show-ups muck in for carpools, clean-ups, fundraising, kid caring, food sharing and visiting.
It sounds simple. It can be hard.
How many relationships dissolve when one or both parties stop showing up? Physically, emotionally, or both - someone went elsewhere, geographically or emotionally, losing themselves in cyber conversations or a job, maybe got cosy with a third party…
If I've learned one thing from running, it's show up. They say 90 per cent of finishing the race is reaching the start line. There is no shame in DNF - did not finish. I reserve DNS - did not start - for sickness and injury.
This winter, I've been slack in early launches and cold morning exertions, yet the effort of pre-dawn exercise is almost always worth showing up for. The only recent run I've regretted happened after I tripped last month on an impossibly small rock jutting from the Papamoa Waterways trail. I fell on my knee, palm, side… collecting gravel and pain. I lurched away with a bloody knee, aching ribs and bruised ego. I had only gone three kilometres, so couldn't blame tired legs. Nearly every other outdoor jaunt - slogging up the Mount or around the estuary (minus the half-body exfoliation) - makes me feel accomplished and alive. And it started with showing up.
Former world-class long-distance runner Alberto Salazar once said he had as many doubts about a race as anyone else. "Standing on the starting line, we're all cowards."
I remember feeling small and cowardly next to my late husband when he lay in intensive care in 2009. I was little more than body-in-chair. I listened to machines beep, updated Facebook and took notes whenever a doctor or nurse updated Sean's condition. "I'm not doing anything," I told a priest friend. "You are," he said. "Showing up is 90 per cent of life. Just show up."
We're a country of doers. Work hard, play hard. We tell our kids to aim for good marks in school and push for the podium in athletics. As adults, we seek extra work hours, promotions, new positions. We strive to get fitter, faster, better in our chosen sport, whether it's tramping, bowls, rugby or running.
Contests and jobs that lend themselves to defined outcomes - we got that. Step-by-step, through early mornings, late nights, working lunches, planning calendars, shared spreadsheets, meetings, workshops…we'll achieve our goals.
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But some life events don't lend themselves to planning, only participation. Some episodes leave us feeling exposed. Powerless. Where's our action agenda?
Miss 15 and I drove to Waipuna Hospice last weekend for one of those raw encounters - a not-on-the-calendar, heart-in-mouth visit with a good friend who has advanced cancer.
I brought no food, as my friend has little appetite. I had no flowers, as I don't know how long the Hospice stay will last - maybe she'll get over this episode and go home.
All I had was me and my girl. We brought stories. Miss 15 recounted how she'd scored excellence in her latest Year 11 maths exam. Our friend was my daughter's first tutor, the teacher who unlocked Miss 15's number confidence. The same child who once struggled with fractions is solving multi-variate equations. She also likes geometry.
The hour flew. We left our friend to pick at the dinner she wasn't hungry for. We had a tiny cry at the reception desk.
Once outside, Miss 15 turned to me and said, "I forget to say, 'I love you.'"
I hesitated. She knows, right? We've already left and isn't it weird to return? Next time…
We're never guaranteed next time. Especially now. "You can go back and say it," I tell my daughter. "That'll be awkward," she replies. I tell her life is awkward, full stop.
We re-enter the building and walk down the hall. Miss 15 knocks on the door, pulls back the curtain and says, "I love you."
Pride and sorrow wash over me at once.
And I wonder if what we're doing at home in New Zealand is partly a response to what we cannot do for others in our home country. Showing up for loved ones in America requires at least 20 hours in transit. This is the ex-pat's dilemma - birthdays, weddings, sickness and funerals - mostly spectated from afar. We do what we can, where we can.
One of my former bosses in the States used to travel half-way across the country to visit his mum, who had Alzheimer's. She had reached the stage where she didn't recognise her son. "She wouldn't even know you were there," I told him, as if to say, "Why bother?"
"I knew I was there," he responded. It's one of the most important things anyone has ever told me.
Sometimes, the best, bravest thing we can do is show up.
Dawn Picken also writes for the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend and tutors at Toi Ohomai. She's a former marketing director and TV presenter who lives in Papamoa with her family.