Thursday, April 26, 2012

Better an empty house...

What do George Bush Sr and I have in common? Well, last week I was staying with friends. Ten of us were sharing a bathroom and, thanks to a raw foods meal heavy on the broccoli, I contracted food poisoning. The chances of the loo being free when I needed to throw up were slim, so my friends gave me a plastic container. Rather disconcertingly, it had measurements marked up the side, which is how I know I threw up almost a litre of broccoli and other raw delights.

I’ve never loved broccoli. Having been nose deep in the scent of partially digested florets for an evening, I’d have to say I like it even less now; and thus George and I finally have something in common.

Presidential comparisons aside, I was completely knocked out, and it took me a good two or three days to recover. As six kids – theirs and ours – swirled around me, I felt so apologetic.

I don’t know how many times I said sorry: for contracting food poisoning, for needing the vomit bowl, for throwing up, for washing the bucket out in their laundry sink, for needing to lie around for a couple of days, for being a bother, for being useless.

I could hear myself apologise again and again, and as I listened to myself I wondered. My friends are good kind gentle people, which is why I love them; and they treated me with a care far beyond the call of duty. They tried to take the bucket from me and empty it; they made it clear that I was to wake them at any time I needed them; they insisted that if I threw up on the bed or floor, they would clean it up. I wasn’t to do a thing other than be sick, and rest.

With such gracious friends, why did I apologise so profusely? Contracting food poisoning is hardly a moral failing. Do I think I am lovable only when I am active, healthy and useful, loading the dishwasher and hanging out washing and taking kids to the beach? Do I fear that my appeal will drop away the instant I reveal myself to be a sick, weak, vulnerable, embodied human being?

Yet it is our embodiment that has built the friendship. We’re not friends because of years of dry intellectual discourse; our friendship is based on walking together and sharing meals. It’s been years of swapping clothes and holding each other’s babies and giving each other a hug now and then; it’s being there for long hours when one of us needs to cry and the other has a safe warm room and some tissues. The very things that have cemented our friendship – our bodies which are flattered by similar clothes, our bodies which love good food, our bodies which walk and talk and relax at the beach – are what make us vulnerable. It is only because we can become bright with wine that we can be bent over by bacteria in our gut.

And I am the same person, well or ill. Better an empty house than a bad tenant, I said late at night, before cleaning out a warm bucket of sick; and, as I apologised for the bad joke, my friends who like me however I come looked directly at me, and laughed.


  1. I can relate to so much of what you have written here. What is it that gets in the way of the unconditional love/acceptance which those close to us so generously offer? I love the saying 'Those who mind, don't matter...and Those who matter, don't mind'. Vulnerability can be a scary thing - it is also the state which enables true friendships/connections to blossom and validate who and what we are. Best wishes. Jeff.

  2. Thanks Jeff for the comments - it is so true, it is in times of vulnerability that one realises exactly who are one's true friends, and thus vulnerability is something to be grateful for - and yet paradoxically is something we remain scared of. Personally, I suspect most of us are fundamentally afraid to be known and loved. Weird, but there you are. alison.

  3. Wow, Alison. I'm fond of broccoli, usually cooked, but after reading this it takes on a whole new demeanor for me.Though that I gather is not the point of your post about friendship, for better and worse. I hope you've recovered by now.

  4. Hi Elisabeth, Like Bush, I am making my feelings about broccoli known! Not quite the podium he had, though :-) All better, just a bit thinner than I was a week ago which is not a bad thing! alison.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...