You Do What You Can

UA1605, Seat 22A (for those who are amused by inconsequential significance). Westbound this morning, reluctantly. Carly’s doing much better, but her partner’s return flight got canceled, so she’ll be spending the day without support. But she’s got Arwyn and her older brother, both of whom ooze an aura of competence that seems vaguely unnatural for their years. Arwyn hovers nearby, distracting herself with Minecraft until called, then responds with the obligatory minor winge before tiptoeing to Carly’s side and sweetly asking what she can do to help.

We’re past the worst dangers of nausea – down from four medications to a single, still-unopened bottle of “as needed” that hasn’t been. Regular little snacks of plum and apricot have kept the worst at bay. What remains are the waves of sudden, utter fatigue and a general sense that she’s been poisoned within an inch of her life. Because, you know, she has been.

But there are these moments where she pops up from the couch and says things like “Oh – I just remembered: I need to do laundry!” (or the like). I’ve picked up the routine well enough to know that my job is to keep her on the couch for the 15 or so seconds that it’ll take for that burst to pass, and she’ll say “Holy crap, I’m so tired – what’s wrong with me?” and flop back into the recommended horizontal position. Then I’ll fetch another sliced apricot and go off to do the laundry. It’s a simple and gratifying routine.

The thing is, I’ve got to go – my family needs me back for a complete furball of commitments starting early tomorrow. Carly insists it’s okay – she’s got the kids, and John and other friends are just a phone call away. I know it’s true, but I’m still twisted with feelings of guilt – maybe I could change my flight, stay at least through the afternoon today to help with that doctors appointment. Maybe I could stay until tomorrow, and Devon could put in the godawful 10 hours of driving tomorrow to fetch J from camp, while simultaneously getting Miranda packed for her departure next week, and field the queries from the half dozen organizations who want to meet with us about, and prepare for the guests we’re having on Sunday, and, and , and….

No, I’ve got to go – my own family needs me. And I’ve got to trust that Carly and her kids can get through the next two days by dint of their enormous collective competence.

She does seem to be on the mend. I’ve never been through this before, of course, but the stretches of dazed oblivion are gone, and despite the oh-crap-I-feel-like-I’ve-been-poisoned fatigue, she’s resting well and eating normally. Still…


When I was young, my grandfather, Grandpa Jack, used to always say “Well, you do what you can.” Have I written about this already? When I was a kid, it always bothered me. It felt like a generic throwaway phase he used to cap off a conversation, to tell someone that he was sympathetic, but he was done listening to them complain.

Strange thing is that, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve kept finding those words coming back to me in a different, meaningful sense. First: if there’s something you can do, you do it. It’s okay to complain – that’s how we bond and come to grips with the situation. But once you’re done complaining, you buck up and do what you can.

Second, I think he was reminding me that there’s a limit to what any of us can do. And once you’ve done that, you’ve done it. There’s no point beating yourself up, twisting around, or trying to figure out what you could have done better. You’ve got to make peace with the fact that you’ve done what you could.

And here and now? I’ve done what I could, and I’m hoping it’s enough for now. And I’m buoyed by the certainty that there’ll be the chance to do more, much more, later.

3 responses to “You Do What You Can

  1. "You do what you can." You speak the truth, grandpa. Why is it that we all have to learn this lesson individually? Maybe it's because everyone has a different capacity for doing — what you can do is probably different from what I can do. It isn't until we bump up against that limit a few (a dozen, a gajillion) times that the phrase echoes in our heads and suddenly means something.Carly was lucky to have you! Devon will be glad to have you back.


  2. Pingback: Out of My Comfort Zone | David Pablo Cohn·

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