I have noticed over the last few months that I seem attract a certain sort of friend. This would be the independent I don't need anybody's help friend. I wouldn't worry about it much, but every single friend I have fits in this category--from the neighbor who didn't want to disturb me in the middle of the night when she was sick to the friend who suffered through the loss of a family member without letting anyone know because--you guessed it--she didn't want to bother anyone.
So I think I will offer a gentle observation. When my friends stubbornly hold to their independence, refusing even the slightest help, they are sending a subtle message about our friendship. They are saying that their control is more important than our friendship.
I'm sure you're sitting back, giving this blog the old hairy eyeball about now. Yes, I know exactly where you're coming from--every one of you. I'm the high priestess of independence myself. I'm the one who moved across the country with three babies, dealt with crisis after crisis on my own, spent long hours alone because the house hunk was working two full-time jobs so that we could buy groceries. I managed just fine right up to the point that I fell flat on my face, ended up addicted to Valium, and nearly checked out.
That was when I learned that independence can be another name for pride. Sometimes it's another name for shame. Sometimes it's another name for private despair. Sometimes it's just another name for control. And most of the time it's unnecessary. The vast majority of women don't have any idea how to accept a helping hand. In our mad rush to prove that we don't need a man to lean on, don't need a man to take care of us, we lost something. We lost that ability to admit that once in a while it's a relief to accept that helping hand--even if it's just a sympathetic ear.
Since that time in my twenties, I've had many occasions when I gratefully welcomed that helping hand. Sometimes it was a couple bags of groceries when we had no food. Once it was a stack of maternity clothes when I found myself twenty weeks pregnant with no prior warning (that's an entirely different blog!) There were wonderful women all around me who pitched in to help me find crib, baby clothes, and other necessities.
When that baby had grown to be a troubled teen, I had new friends who held my hand, listened to me cry, even rode with me when I went to visit my daughter at the school where we placed her for twenty-two long months. There were many, many people I talked to during that period of time who commented about my willingness to share my experience. They were going through very similar things, but were too shamed to ask for help. Offering my story allowed them to share theirs.
Of course that wasn't nearly as humiliating as the time I had a small mini-stroke. I knew that there were certain "things" that were gone. But the morning that I realized that I no longer knew how to tie my shoes... Well, I found a pair of "slip-ons" and went off to work, still in shock. My boss asked me what was wrong. "I don't know how to tie my shoes," I blurted out. Very calmly she said, "Well come in my office and I'll tie them for you."
Forty years don't pass in a marriage without a stunning variety of crises. A few years ago I knelt on the floor in the main aisle of Wal-Mart screaming for help as the house hunk had a grand mal seizure. Little did I know the hell that awaited us in the future.
When you've had a seizure, particularly a grand mal seizure, you're not permitted to drive. In the space of a few minutes we went from a two-driver family to a single-driver family. We lived in an extremely rural area without the slightest pretension of mass transit. When the house hunk was eventually permitted to go back to work, I rose every morning, rain, snow, or clear to take him to the closest park n' ride so that he could commute to the city. Inevitably, there were doctor's visits and other family necessities that needed transportation. And I had to ask for help. And I did.
I can just see you nodding your head at my good sense. Of course--even you would be willing to offer your help under such circumstances. But let's put the shoe on the other foot. When was the last time you asked for help? Because this is a two-way street. Every person needs help sometime in their life. But more importantly, they need to return the favor. Yep. That's right. If you refuse to ask for a helping hand, you're refusing to allow that other person to do their part! When you're always the helper and never the "helpee" you're taking a valuable necessary opportunity from the other guy.
Success is possible in life without the help of others. But it's more likely when we all take turns lending and accepting that helping hand.