By: David White, LPC
Recently my 17-year-old son has taken up the guitar, and over the last two years, he’s become pretty good. As a result, he gets asked to play for random family gatherings: backyard BBQs, impromptu jam sessions, even the occasional 50th wedding anniversary. He plays and sings, and I back him up on the drums. Like him, I started young, so it’s been great to share this hobby together. My son is good by himself; but together, we are freaking amazing! This simple truth feels especially important as I reflect on the loneliness faced by so many in our cut-off and isolated current reality. I really do believe that this is how it is supposed to be—we’re ok on our own, but we are so much better when we are together.
My son and I have learned quite a few songs in the last few months, but the one that stands out is “Lean on Me.” Hearing the lyrics and messaging underlying the song reminds me of this powerful truth about just how much we need each other. Whether you’re playing music, running a race, or trying to manage stress found in everyday life, “Lean on Me” provides the simple (but not easy) wisdom we would do well to take to heart.
When the Finish Line Feels Miles Away
The run portion of a triathlon is simultaneously the simplest and most difficult part of the race. It’s the simplest because all you have to do is run. One foot in front of the other. It doesn’t require the precision or execution of swimming or the technical know-how of biking. However, it is by far the most excruciating part of the race. Already exhausted from swimming and biking, as you creep towards the heat of the day… the half-marathon begins.
Surprisingly, one of the most challenging parts of the run is how little mental acuity is required. Step, step, step, step, step, step… This absence of focus means the mind starts to wander, drifting to thoughts of the oppressive heat, the ridiculous incline, calculating your time, and noticing how achy your muscles feel. It won’t be long before your energy begins to wane and motivation takes a big hit.
At a recent race, during one of these mental attacks, I began to hear a strange yet incredibly familiar sound. “DAVE!!!! LET’S GO!!! YOU GOT THIS!!! THAT’S MY BOY RIGHT THERE!!!” The source: two of my best friends in the whole world, holding a BlueTooth speaker overhead and yelling at the top of their lungs. Without hesitation, they cut through the crowd and fell into line, running alongside me. I was so tired, SO TIRED, and looked like hell-warmed-over, but the moment they came alongside me, I felt an energy and a connection that quite literally carried me forward. They ran with me for a while, encouraging me, singing “Good as Hell,” and telling me how badass they thought I was. After a few minutes, they looked at me and said, “Alright man, we’ll see you at the finish line!” Those powerful words came at a time when I needed them. These words grew in power and meaning, embodied in action every time my friends showed up for me and were there for me to lean on.
There are very few things in this world as powerful as when one person comes alongside another. When I think of this type of friendship, I am instantly reminded of Samwise Gamgee from the Lord of the Rings. As Frodo becomes more and more burdened by the responsibility of carrying the ring and falters from exhaustion both physically and emotionally, Sam demonstrates his commitment to be there when it gets difficult. “Come, Mr. Frodo!’ he cried. ‘I can’t carry it for you, but I can carry you” (J.R.R. Tolkien). Coming alongside is not about “doing for” it is about “being with.” Learning to manage stress means learning to recognize when we need to lean on others. We can’t just go at it alone. Life is always hard, but it is excruciating when we are cut off from others. Being able to manage stress requires connection, and connection requires vulnerability.
Until its recent revival in my life, the song “Lean on Me” had become so familiar that I didn’t really hear the words anymore. And within its lyrics, there it is, the remedy that so many of us are searching for. A real true connection. Friendship. Someone who will come alongside us and say, “You got this!”
So again, whether it’s cheering on your friends as they race towards the finish line, pushing one another to play better and perform better, or just walking with someone through the highs and lows of everyday life, we’re all better off when we have someone to lean on.
Lean on Me
Songwriter: Bill Withers
Sometimes in our lives; We all have pain
We all have sorrow; But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow
Lean on me; When you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend; I’ll help you carry on…
For it won’t be long; Till I’m gonna need somebody to lean on
Please swallow your pride; If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill; Those of your needs that you won’t let show
You just call on me brother when you need a hand; We all need somebody to lean on
I just might have a problem that you’ll understand; We all need somebody to lean on
If there is a load you have to bear; That you can’t carry
I’m right up the road; I’ll share your load
If you just call me, Call me
If you need a friend, Call me
If you ever need a friend, Call me
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