I was sitting on a plastic couch in a hospital waiting room sobbing in that heart wrenching way you do when you are racked with grief. I had just finished making those difficult phone calls to friends and family, when one of my sisters sat down beside me. She put her arm around me as I wept. She gave me a squeeze and said, “Hey. Come on. Lean in.” And I did. And it felt so good at that moment, when I felt utterly alone despite being surrounded by family. I leaned in. It felt so good to share the burden. It did not stop my heart from breaking or the tears from falling. But that simple touch, knowing she shared that grief with me and in some way (that defies algebra) adding her grief to mine, actually lessened it. That simple phrase, “Lean in”, just stayed with me all night. I realized I need to learn to lean in more. I realized I don’t lean in enough and I wondered why. It’s a problem. I live in a country built on fierce independence. Where we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps. Where we get back in the saddle. Where we rub some dirt on it. Where we get up, brush ourselves off, and do it again. That ethic is in every line of my family and it runs deep. We come from strong people who crossed oceans with almost nothing in our hands and absolute determination, blind courage and deep faith in our hearts. Somehow, I don’t think leaning in was a strategy they used much, and it certainly wasn’t a strategy they passed down our line. “Get up”, “move forward”, “never let them see you sweat”? Yes. “Lean in”? Not so much. Don’t get me wrong, that fierce spirit has served me very well. That is not going to change. I even remind my daughter often “Shea Girls are fierce!”. But there is a time to lean in. There is a time to accept support and help. There is a time to share the burden. So, I am going to lean in when I need to. I am even going to lean in without being told to. Thanks to my little sister for reminding me to lean in.
This photo (though it is short one Shea Girl) really spoke to me for this post. I am the one on my dad’s lap. My “Lean In” sister is smiling in the background (she was a really giggly, joyful little girl), trying to get to us. My dad is reaching out to my oldest sister. Every one leaning in with love.