‘Showing up’ matters

by Jill Ebstein

Memories come at the oddest times. I was 14, in a body cast and confined to my bed for five months. I was to lie flat and turn from side to side only to avoid bedsores.

I had an “odd” aunt who never really warmed to her mother, my Bubbie, who was the picture of an Eastern European immigrant, accent and all. My aunt led a life that showed she was “American” all the way. She went to the spa weekly, had her hair done at the salon and enjoyed massages. Her iconic American ways challenged my Bubbie, making my aunt the butt of many jokes.

But what do I remember of this odd aunt? When I was confined to bed, she routinely came to visit me. She would bring me turkey soup (which I did not like), or a lamb chop with mint jelly (which I liked even less) or baked goods (which I liked most). She kept me company and engaged in conversation. In a word, she “showed up.” I am not certain why I received her generosity of spirit, but I will never forget that I did. It helped me see her differently.

Once I started thinking about “showing up” moments, I remembered how my brothers would transport me via a wooden piano bench to a sofa in the living room on Friday nights so that I could participate in our Sabbath. The piano and bench were the first pieces of furniture my parents bought, which dismayed my Bubbie, who saw it as an unaffordable luxury. The bench never looked the same afterward, with random scratches from my cast. But my whole memory of that period is the way people showed up.

Last week, with the trauma and bloodshed suffered in Israel, I was where many people were — adrift and worrying about family and friends who have been called up. You don’t quite know what to do with yourself, but amid pain and panic, I received messages from three friends who were checking in on me. One email, one text, and one Slack message warmed me in a surprising way. The messages were brief but reminded me that showing up can happen in the smallest of ways.

Before last week, I was going to write about regrets. Data show that we have a lot of them. We can quibble with the exact number, but one study suggests that the average person makes nearly 800,000 decisions in a lifetime, and of those decisions, we regret one-fifth.

When I shared this data with a friend, she challenged me that not all decisions or regrets are equal, so maybe we shouldn’t count them equally. Fair enough. Choosing our life partner or work is on a different level than the flavor of ice cream we prefer.

But numbers aside, we know that we make many active decisions in a lifetime and experience too many regrets — regrets that have nothing to do with ice cream. Our biggest regrets tend to focus on relationships and actions not taken. Could I have been “more there” for someone? Did the person know how much I cared?

In the wake of the crisis in Israel, the long-buried memory of my aunt and her turkey soup came to mind. She showed up. She reminded me that sometimes, we can beat expectations in how we are there for people. My friends’ messages reminded me that “showing up” doesn’t take much. Small acts can feel large or, as Winston Churchill once commented, “Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.”

Jill Ebstein is the editor of the “At My Pace” series of books and the founder of Sized Right Marketing, a consulting firm.