Monthly Archives: August 2022

SDAC – Striving To Become A Better Friend

I’ve always wanted to be a good friend to the people I care about — to offer a kind, non-judgmental ear, lend a hand and strong back with physical tasks, to cheer on a friend’s success and to share in their sorrows. Hopefully you have a friend who is there for you, and I hope you offer support to those you care about.

But these acts of friendship can sometimes go awry. Different people have different needs and determining those needs and providing them can be a challenge.

Countless letters to advice columns, personal experiences, and jokes attest to the difficulty people experience when they need the comfort and support of their friends and partners. These challenges are backed up by scientific research.

I vividly remember reading You Just Don’t Understand – Women and Men in Conversation 30 years ago by linguist Dr. Deborah Tannen and her message about how different sexes use language in different ways. In particular, I recall examples where women and men would become frustrated with each other when one was discussing a problem or complaint. In some cases, men would hear women’s complaints and want to solve the problem rather than just listen. Amongst themselves, one man would express a complaint and others would completely change the subject or make a joke of it, rather than commiserating and empathizing.

More recent research, discussion, and cultural awareness and sensitivity may make Dr. Tannen’s work seem pedestrian today. But I believe her overall message remains valid: different people communicate differently and have different needs when they are hurting.

In my own life, I could see how different friends coped with stress and worry in different ways. Some needed to vent. Some needed to do something physical. Some wanted to avoid the stressor completely. Some just wanted a hug. I had inconsistent success guessing what they needed and providing it.

Over time, I’ve developed SDAC (which I pronounce, “ESS-dack”). I’m certain others have figured out something similar, but here’s my strategy. When I sense a friend is in distress, I offer them SDAC. Unless I’ve talked about it before, they have no idea what I am talking about. Here’s what I mean: I offer them Silence, Distraction, Advice, and/or Comfort.

Silence means I will listen silently, without interruption, offer no feedback, no judgment, just listen and let them vent their frustrations, articulate their grievances, exorcize their demons. It may require discipline not to finish a sentence, correct a word, interject “yes, but…,” or offer solutions. But some people just need to give words to what they are feeling and the space to do so without any response.

“The word ‘listen’ contains the same letters as the word ‘silent’.”

― Alfred Brendel

Some people want Distraction. They have been engulfed by their fears, sadness, and/or anger and need to be pulled out for a while. In such cases, I may give the account of my day, tell a funny story, read a poem, sing or play a song, etc. Sometimes disrupting the spiral of darkness allows the person to step outside of themselves for a moment and experience some relief.

Advice should only be given when truly asked for. Numerous women I know have been frustrated and angered by men (including me) who offer advice and solutions after hearing their current complaint. People can feel patronized, demeaned, and not heard when the first response they get is a solution rather than empathy.

Many people, especially men, may feel uncomfortable with negative emotions and gravitate to problem-solving mode, which is a safe and comfortable place for them. But that may be the opposite of what the person needs in that moment.

“Advice is like snow – the softer it falls, the longer it dwells upon, and the deeper it sinks into the mind.”

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Some people don’t want to talk about, be distracted from, or advised on whatever their current stressor is. They may need Comfort. If you are together, that could be a long hug. If you are physically separated, it could be to be reminded why they are your friend and why you think they are special. Bad things happen to good people. Reminding someone that just because they didn’t get the job, their child is faltering, or whatever, doesn’t mean they, themselves, are bad or damaged. You still are their friend, and you still love them.

I truly believe we don’t tell others frequently enough how we feel about them. Being reminded of that can be a huge comfort.

Offering SDAC helps me know what my friends need, but it also may help the person in distress.

Often, when we are in a state of crisis, we don’t know what we need. We are consumed in the vortex of feelings we are feeling. When offered SDAC, sincerely and without judgment, we are invited to stop for a moment and seriously consider what would help us, what would make us feel better in that moment. That alone can be both empowering and calming. Even if the person offering SDAC isn’t great at delivering it, creating a space for the stressed person to figure out what she/he/they need can be an act of great kindness in itself.

Most everyone to whom I have shared the concept of SDAC has found it helpful. But it takes practice — I still falter at times and provide the wrong response to friends under stress before remembering to offer SDAC.

Please consider giving SDAC a try. I suspect you may find it helpful, whether you want to offer kindness and support to a friend in need, or you are the person needing it.

Peace and grace.

Crossing Bridges By Bike

Today I rode the Providence Bridge Pedal with my mom.

It was a last-minute decision. We only decided last night around 9pm.

Mom, Lynn, and me at the summit of the Fremont Bridge

She occasionally rides with her friend Lynn, who owns a tandem bike. He first invited her to ride with him about five years ago. At the time, he thought she was maybe 70. When she told him she was 85 years old, he was taken aback.

She was a late starter, having learned to ride a bike around 12, and she hadn’t ridden one in many, many decades.

They have enjoyed several tandem rides since that initial invitation. They had planned to ride in Corvallis today, but last night, Lynn realized the Bridge Pedal was today. He reached out to me and suggested we do it. If Mom was game — which I was certain she would be — I would enthusiastically join them. Mom was reached, and we quickly agreed to do it.

So there was a mad scramble as I had to register quickly online as well as get my bike and gear together and ready. I haven’t ridden my bike in years and recently moved, so it took some doing.

I woke early, gobbled a little breakfast, and headed out to the nearest MAX station to ride downtown to meet them.

That’s when I realized a grave error. I had pumped up my tires, checked my brakes, replaced the dead batteries in my warning lights, but hadn’t checked my gears. They weren’t working.

Apparently, my old Shimano Deore XTR Rapid Fire shifters (I’ve never liked grip shifters) were gummed up and need to be cleaned and lubricated. But there was no time. I faced the prospect of doing the entire ride in one gear.

Fine, I thought to myself. Fortunately, it was stuck in a decent gear: I could start, and the gear was high enough to allow me to cruise. I didn’t expect the pace to be too aggressive, so I let it go and started riding.

Bikes packing into the MAX light rail car

Even as early as I boarded the MAX and at a relatively distant station, there were already at least five cyclists on board. A family of five soon added to our numbers. It made me happy to see so many cyclists and of such varying ages.

Lining up for Will-Call Registration

I arrived early and picked up our registration cards. I noticed a TV film crew interviewing a family and some kids. I stepped up and informed the cameraman that my 90-year-old mom was arriving soon to ride. Once she showed up, they approached her and talked about 5 to 10 minutes (mom has never shied away from a microphone! I fully expect she’ll be featured on KGW’s news tonight).

Update: KGW featured mom in a story you can view and read here.

Mom interviewed by a KGW news crew before the start of the race

We chose the “Family Ride,” a 13-mile course that crossed six of Portland’s bridges. In order, they were: Morrison, Ross Island, Hawthorne, Marquam, Fremont, and Steel. Although I had a map, I opted to use a mnemonic device to remember the order: MR. Hawthorne Makes Free Steel. There were plenty of volunteers, police officers, and traffic cones set up to make the course easy to follow, but I always had a ready answer when asked, “What’s the next bridge?” and, “How many more do we have to go?”

Lynn and mom climbing the Marquam Bridge

I don’t know how many cyclists there were, but there had to be thousands. On the steep climbs (especially ascending the Fremont and Marquam bridges), many dismounted to walk their bikes. With so many cyclists, including many children and infrequent riders, some people were unfamiliar with riding etiquette. Massive, slow-moving crowds formed and prevented anyone from riding certain stretches.

Crowds amass atop the Marquam Bridge

But entertainment from the Boka Marimba ensemble and aid stations passing out drinks, bananas, and cookies encouraged us to stop, enjoy a snack, and take in views normally unseen when navigating the bridges at high speed in a car.

Boka Marimba entertains the passing cyclists

Bananas seemed like a good choice at first — until I saw dropped bananas and banana peels on the roadway. Fortunately, most people were walking their bikes around those areas, so I didn’t see any banana-related spills.

Climbing up the Fremont Bridge

Along the course, I waved and shouted out thanks to the volunteers and police officers. I couldn’t help but occasionally point at Mom and proudly shout out, “that’s my mom, and she’s 90 years old!” That always got a whoop of encouragement and amazement.

Mom still looks chipper and fresh as we climb the 5th of 6 bridges

I frequently checked in with mom to see if she was hot or cold, thirsty, or needed a break, but she was fine. The forced breaks during the bicycle traffic jams seemed to suffice.

She commented she always sees things she’s never seen before when out on a bike ride with Lynn. That’s true. It is lovely to be able to peer off the sides of the bridges and take in the beauty of the Willamette River and surrounding areas.

Being both out of shape and limited to a single gear I expected to struggle. But I managed to keep going, continuing to pedal past many as they walked their bikes up hills. I stopped mostly when I lost sight of Lynn and mom. I tried to stay close and in front of them to ensure they had a clear path.

Lynn and mom cross the finish line

We finished feeling elated and still energetic enough to bike a bit longer before packing it in. We rode 4-5 miles along the Eastbank Esplanade and near OMSI before finally heading back to Lynn’s parked van.

Mom and Lynn on completion of the ride

We found a Thai restaurant and devoured a big lunch before saying our farewells.

Thai food for the victorious athletes

I still had to get home to Aloha, but my body was pretty spent. My odometer read a mere 26 miles, but in the shape I was in, even small upward inclines were by now pretty taxing. So I caught a bus and the MAX light rail and was carried to within a mile of my home.

Now clean and downing water, I am enjoying the familiar ache of muscles long underused. As I feel my saddle sores and stiff neck, I recall and miss my Vision R40 recumbent bicycle that was so fun and comfortable to ride.

But the biggest feeling I have is one of pride in myself and for my 90-year-old mother and what we have experienced and accomplished today.

Be well, safe, and blessed with good health!