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The gift of a tender word

If a situation calls for affirming words or tender acknowledgments, what do you say?

“It depends on the circumstance,” you might respond. Yes, it does. But when we receive sad or unsettling news, certain phrases resonate particularly well. For example, “I’m here for you,” is one. “You are in my heart,” might be another. ”I feel your pain,” not so much.

There’s a viral 30-second video I’ve viewed often that uses my favorite affirmation. It features two golden retrievers sitting side by side. One gray-nosed dog nudges closer and closer to the other, wrapping a lanky front leg under and over the other dog’s leg and then reaching both front legs around the sad-appearing dog next to him in something that resembles a hug. It is all set to music, and the song is Bruno Mars’ “Count on Me.”

“You can count on me like one, two, three. I’ll be there. And I know when I need it I can count on you like four, three, two. You’ll be there. Whoa, whoa. Oh, oh. Yeah, yeah.

Yeah. In the past week, my pregnant niece and her 5-year-old daughter were both diagnosed with COVID. They are very symptomatic. My sister and her husband, caregivers for the child, are in quarantine. When you are expecting a baby, the anti-viral medications that ease symptoms apparently are not recommended. My sister is consumed with worry. Count on me, sis.

An 80-something neighbor living with her blind daughter was just diagnosed with COVID too. I left chocolate chip cookies and chicken soup on her doorstep. Her texted response was, “Thank you. It‘s so nice to have caring neighbors. If you need anything in the future, count on me.” Yeah.

An authentic affirmation, whether written, spoken or set to music, is a gift. As we get older there are increasingly more occasions to give that gift. Dependency increases. Family members or our age peers become ill or pass on. Life takes turns and twists. That too, you can count on.

The life-journey we call aging distracts and absorbs us, and we may forget to reach out to someone we’ve not seen for a long time but know is going through tough straits. Or maybe they’re not going through anything all that tough currently, but they could still use a friendly query. I am guilty of doing less of that kind of outreach than I used to do, and I plan to correct it as soon as I finish writing this column.

Some people offer acknowledgments and affirmations better than others. I always believe it takes practice, but one of the most affirming missives I’ve received in the past year was from my youngest teenage granddaughter, who wrote, “You are a wonderful grandmother. Lucky me.”

But this is about more than the outreach between neighbors and within family. This is about survival. Every time I read about or see a televised example of Ukrainians helping their Ukrainian neighbors in distress, I feel affirmed by their demonstration of caring strength. I learn from them. We all can. Yeah.

Sharon Johnson is a retired educator. Reach her at sharjohn99@gmail.com.