An Open Letter To The Friends I Didn't Reach Out To

by Elaine Roth
Originally Published: 
An Open Letter To The Friends I Didn't Reach Out To
Malte Mueller/Getty

In the life before—before the pandemic upended everything—I lamented having no time. My busy days and weekends meant I had no time to call up a friend. I was too busy to sit on the phone and catch up with anyone, except for the few minutes between the drive from the grocery store to school pick-up.

I’d tell myself that I would call if I had more free time, that I’d call if I wasn’t constantly running around.

It’s been months since the world came to a screeching halt, since our usual routines of one-after-another after-school activities and hectic weekend birthday party and soccer game schedules suddenly disappeared, and we were left with time.

Time to do the things we said we’d do if we weren’t running around from sun up to sun down and beyond.

And I still didn’t call up those friends I’d been meaning to call. Months at home and I thought I’d have been better at reaching out to old friends. I planned on it. With all the discussion around the rise of the phone call and socially connecting even while socially distancing, I had the best of intentions. But I still haven’t.

True, I was busy. Even though I was home and didn’t have to chauffeur my kids from activity to activity, I was still busy. In some ways, busier than ever. I didn’t have any less work to do, but I did have to take on the jobs of homeschool teacher and seven-night-a-week chef—because those easy-drive through dinner nights had been ripped away. Grocery planning and grocery shopping took way more time than they’d taken before, when if I forgot something, I could just pop into the store later. Daily (double daily…triple daily) surface wiping took up large swaths of time.

But the reality is, I failed. I write so often about how much I’ve been given in friendship, how after the death of my young husband, friends held out their hands and kept me from crashing to my rock bottom, and that I’ll never be able to pay back all that was given. This was my chance to give. And I didn’t. And I’m sorry.

And I don’t want to give excuses, but I want to give explanations, because I owe you those at least.

  1. The pandemic is a weight I couldn’t carry at first. I don’t believe anyone truly could, but in those early days, the pandemic honed my grief into an edge so sharp, sometimes I couldn’t take a full breath without feeling the arc of the invisible blade across my heart. My grief was so heavy, and I didn’t want to ask for help in carrying it—not again. But also, it was so heavy, and I had no strength left to carry anything else. I couldn’t help carry your fears and anxieties and stresses, so I didn’t call. And I’m sorry.
  2. My days weren’t full of running around, but they were full. Of single parenting my kids from sun up to sun down, without a moment of silence. And when that moment of silence came, the one I should have used to call you, I didn’t because it was my first moment of quiet, and I selfishly prioritized that over you. For that, I’m sorry. Friendships are as valuable to the soul as quiet, and I let myself forget that.
  3. Zoom fatigue is real. After hours of social distance communication—for my kids and for professional purposes—I simply didn’t have much left for any other kind of communication, even the fun kind that comes with a glass of wine at a virtual happy hour. My bandwidth had been depleted, which is horrible, but true, and I’m sorry.

I know communication goes both ways. I know you might say that you didn’t reach out, either, so no apology needed. But I don’t fault you for not reaching out. Because I know your things were heavy, and you needed a moment of silence, and you were Zoomed-out, too.

And actually, I don’t want your apology. This time, it was my turn to show up, and I didn’t.

I didn’t, even though I thought of you, even though some afternoons, I sat outside and turned my face up to the fading sunlight and wondered how you were doing, sent as much light and love your way as I could muster in my few minutes of quiet.

It’s not enough, it’s barely anything, but sometimes change starts with intention. With acknowledging failure and promising to do better.

So I will.

Because it’s not too late. (Because despite states’ re-opening, this pandemic isn’t over, but mostly because it shouldn’t take a pandemic to reach out to a friend.)

Because it’s worth making time for.

Because I’d forgotten that sometimes helping carry someone else’s heavy thing makes yours a little lighter. Because sometimes helping carry someone else’s heavy makes all the heavy disappear—for both of you, for just a while—and there’s space to breathe where there hadn’t been before.

Because if there’s anything I’ve learned from loss, and from these days full of uncertainty and instability, it’s that sometimes you don’t get a second chance to say the thing you want to say, and sometimes the people you think will be there tomorrow, aren’t, and I will never regret making the call or sending the text, but one day, I might regret not. And that’s reason enough.

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