JENNY R. SUSSER, PH.D.

POWER & PERFORMANCE SPORT PSYCHOLOGY SERVICES

Helplessly Hoping

Posted by on Nov 9, 2019

Not so helpless when together

They are one person

They are two alone

They are three together

They are for each other

Crosby, Stills, and Nash Helplessly Hoping is one of my all-time favorite songs. On their self-titled 1969 album, the words are as beautiful as the melody and harmony that float them into the air, filling my heart with, well, hope. My favorite line is the last, “They are for each other.” The song is a sad one but the thought of hope in all of that hopelessness is still powerful…and necessary. Being for each other is more important to me than I can express. I can’t remember when exactly, but my dad talked with me one day about a collective universe, one in which we all impact each other, intentionally or unintentionally, knowingly or not. I was young, in college probably, and it has stuck with me every day since then. It is especially disheartening these days as it seems we are about as far away from that concept as ever.

How do we remember to take care of each other in the middle of a culture of growing hate, self as importance, and cut-throat competition? You know, take care of everyone, not just people you consider important. I travel frequently for work and the stress of travel can make people a bit crazy. Since I do it so much, it is rarely stressful for me because of the high degree of familiarity and experience. Airports are confusing, airlines can be cruel, weather is a killer, and airport food is expensive and terrible. Don’t even get me started on the seats at the gate and the bathrooms where you cannot fit yourself and your roller bag in a stall without nearly killing yourself (what thoughtless knucklehead designed those)! And all of that before you even get on a plane, which doesn’t have enough room for anyone or anything, and the expense of “not fitting” is terrible. It stresses people out and costs gobs of energy for everyone. I was flying on a small plane into a small airport the other week and there was a mother traveling with her infant. Because she boarded late, her bag had to go above my seat even though she was sitting several rows ahead of me. When we arrived at the gate, I got her bag down and asked the person in front of me to hand it to her. The woman sitting next to me had been coughing during the flight and I had given her a cough drop (part of my bag of tricks for flying as you never know when you will need one). She looked at me, recognizing two small acts of kindness and said, “You are a good person.” I get this a lot from people because I find these small acts of kindness as part of who we all are and should be and so I do them regularly because, well, duh. The funny thing is that this used to be status quo: hold open a door for someone because they are there, let someone merge into your lane because well, it’s not really your lane anyway, smile and say hello because each person deserves to be recognized. What happened to us that we need a bumper sticker to remind us to act human?

I was visiting family this past week after a few very tough, exhausting weeks. My horse, Roble, had an impaction colic that was quite serious and so I slept in front of his stall door for two nights, not really sleeping. We ran fluids from the rafters for a full week and he recovered fully (thanks to an amazing group of people going above and beyond for him: Mette, our staff, and Marybeth Stanton, veterinarian extraordinaire, with a rather incredible husband, too). Then, I had a very important presentation on Monday so the stress to prepare for that while tending to my horse was quite high. I went right from my gig on Monday to my sister’s house for a few days because my niece just had a baby a few days before. Just as we settled into the couch to watch a movie, the phone rang. It was my niece and her blood pressure was high and she needed us to take her to the emergency room. Instantly mobilized, Justine and I headed over there to help. The baby, only 3.5 days old, needed to avoid the ER and so was going to stay home with daddy. Thus, began an exhausting night on top of weeks of exhausting nights. But this is what you do for family and so we did.

The story is long and so I will spare the countless details and skip to the scary part. At one point, around 1 am, with everyone exhausted into stupidity, one of the ER nurses hit a panic button unnecessarily. I was back at the house with daddy getting ready to help him take the baby to the women’s hospital, where my niece was being transferred for post-partum care. My sister calls, the baby is at risk and we needed to now rush her to the women’s hospital ER. Luckily, the baby daddy is literally a race car driver and so off we went. As I sat in the back seat, staring at this little being, not yet four days old, I could barely tolerate the thoughts racing through my mind, talk about helplessly hoping. Poor daddy was driving like a maniac, asking me every 15 seconds if she was okay. I simply started telling him repeatedly that she was fine, because she was. She was beautiful, all snuggled up in her car seat, sucking like crazy on her pacifier, looking perfect. Every time she stopped moving, I rubbed her cheek to make her move and confirm her perfection. I rubbed daddy’s shoulder with the one hand I could reach him with, telling him to breathe and that it was going to be alright. But I didn’t know that for sure. I felt that. She looked and behaved fine, but what if she wasn’t? How could this be and what would we do if…? I stopped myself just like I was stopping him. “No what if’s! Only good thoughts. That’s where we need to put our energy.” But that was hard, harder than I wanted it to be. I tried to imagine what it was like in his head and body. I tried to imagine what my niece was going through, in an ambulance, far away from her baby, and wondering what might happen. It was intolerable. I was texting my sister, who was in the ambulance with her, “She is fine, she looks great. I might barf from the driving!” But I wasn’t sure if it was the driving or the stress.

We arrived at the new ER at the same time and the reunion was, well, a relief. I don’t know how else to describe it. My niece began kissing the baby all over and daddy was shaking so hard, I thought he might topple over. He said, “Having a baby is like putting your heart in someone else’s body.” The ER nurse walked in, casually said that the panic button was a false alarm, and that everyone and everything was going to be just fine. Just like that, all is good, all is restored. It took a week to fully stabilize her blood pressure, but they are all home now, and soon this will be a story to tell and a small but poignant emotional scar that we hope is never re-opened. I was proud of us, of the four of us, sleep-deprived, stressed, and terrified, yet doing what we needed to do for each other. As Justine and I wandered out of the ER to stagger home, she burst into tears of relief. She had kept it all together and been impenetrably strong for our niece, making sure she showed no signs of worry or the deep level of concern we all had. It might have been easier to fall apart but none of us dared. I thought of the title of that song, Helplessly Hoping, and just kept humming, “They are for each other.” The gift of us being there for our niece, daddy, and that beautiful baby was miraculous. I thought of the ER nurses and doctors and what they go through each shift they take, for years and years. I handed someone their bag, not saved their life. But on scale, they were both important because it is all important. That mom didn’t have to wrestle with the baby, the other passengers, or yank her bag out of the under-sized compartment. She simply got to walk off the plane without wasting that time or energy. It made a difference for her and so it made a difference for me.

This is not a “practice random acts of kindness” piece, although I would never discourage that. Practice being human, being part of a collective universe, one in which we are all in this together. If you see someone needing a hand and you have one, offer it. Imagine what it is like when someone helps you unexpectedly. It creates energy all the way around and makes both of you feel amazing…even if it is only for a few minutes. It is woven into my being to help others and I recognize that not everyone is wired as weirdly as I am. But that is not to say you couldn’t be or couldn’t be a little more frequently. Taking your attention off yourself is a great relief at times, I highly recommend it.

🎶We are for each other…