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We all come into this world needing help; it is crucial to our survival.

Even the milkweed needs the help of the wind to spread its seeds.

I grew up in awe of my mother’s ability to help others. She had ten children, so there was never a time when she wasn’t helping someone except maybe herself and knowing that was part of the problem. She gave and gave but didn’t get, at least not very much and not very often or without an argument first. Knowing this always made me reluctant to ask her for help when I needed it since I did not want to be more of a burden to her than I already was.

Maybe that’s why I still find it so very difficult to ask someone for help. I know that I will be an imposition on their time and or energy so most times I opt not to ask even at the risk of hurting myself, emotionally or physically.

I have had multiple traumas to my back over the years, so I know my limitations when it comes to physical labor. Yet I often push past these limitations out of fear of being a burden to someone. That or simply because the thought of my not being able to do something myself gets me so pissed off that I stupidly believe I can push past the pain and do it like I ought to be able to, even though time after time making those kinds of stupid decisions lands me flat on my back for a week, unable to move.

“Not only does the need for help never leave us alone; we must apprentice ourselves to its different necessary forms, at each particular threshold of our lives.” – David Whyte Consolations

As a child, I didn’t have much of a choice. Despite my reluctance, if I needed help, I had to ask for it. But I also grew up watching my mémère, who was fiercely independent, get by on little to no outside help at all. At least that’s how it appeared on the surface.

It seemed there was nothing she couldn’t do. Her husband – my grandfather had died young (long before I was born) so she lived alone which I’m sure made her even more resilient than she already was. It was not unusual to walk to her house which was around the corner from ours and find her balancing precariously on a step stool in her seventies, reaching out into to get every nook and cranny and corner while dusting away the cobwebs every spring.

We would chastise her by reminding her that she had plenty of grandchildren that could help her with that, but she wouldn’t hear of it. She made it clear she didn’t need any help.

It was only towards the end of her life that I witnessed that change.

First, when she was going for chemo and radiation and needed someone to drive her to the appointments and I was grateful for the opportunity to help. She still balked when I pulled out the small plastic step I’d brought along that would allow her to get in and out of my truck more easily and she still had to attempt to give it a go without it first, but eventually she caved and accepted the help from the boost up.

The second came towards the final days of her life when my oldest sister and I went to spend some time with her one afternoon. My mémère always prided herself on having lovely painted fingernails, but she was too weak to attempt it and asked for our help.

When I didn’t respond, my sister kindly offered to do it for her, which she accepted, and I sat there frozen and ashamed. It was one of the few times, maybe the only time, I’d heard her ask for help and it nearly broke me. It was too much for me; I just couldn’t do it.

It was such an intimate moment that before long I was in tears. I was unable to move, unable to take my eyes off either of them as I watched my sister gently hold each of my grandmother’s beautifully wrinkled hands in her own as she carefully and delicately painted the nail on each one of her long slender fingers.

A few days after my mémère died, I went to her house alone to mourn. I was sitting in the recliner she had sat in and noticed the same bottle of nail polish still sitting there on the side table. The memory still had sharp edges and cut me to my core. I began painting my nails with her polish but couldn’t see what I was doing through the hot tears flowing down my face and didn’t get past painting my thumb before quickly wiping it away, and I have never worn nail polish since.

My dying grandmother needed my help and I wasn’t able to give it, and I guess I’ve never forgiven myself for that. But the experience made me want to do better, to give to others more freely and offer a helping hand to people in need more often.

I had young children at the time of her death, and I was determined to lead with a better example. I wanted them to willing offer help to others, but also to be unafraid to ask for help when they needed it and accept it whenever offered.

It was right around this time that I pulled my daughter out of public school to begin homeschooling her. My son would stay and finish second grade before joining us the following year.

I was fortunate to have grown up in close contact with nature so I designed our curriculum around nature as much as I could.

I taught them that everything was interconnected. That in nature there was always a constant give and take that could be relied on and that it was important to try and always be mindful to stay in balance.

How the reciprocity between the bee and the flower produced the fruit and the honey that fed us, and how the trees that helped us to breathe also needed our help and protection.

Once, we were called upon to do just that, and with my teenaged daughter beside me, we threatened to chain ourselves to a tree to save it from being cut down. It was an enormous old oak that we proudly saved from the hungry teeth of a chainsaw.

On another occasion, we came across this lost little gosling in our yard and gave it the help it needed by reuniting it with its mother that was squawking like crazy in the river behind our house.

Let’s face it, we all need help every day of our lives especially the lost and the innocent.

“Help is strangely, something we want to do without, as if the very idea disturbs and blurs the boundaries of our individual endeavors, as if we cannot face how much we need in order to go on.” – David Whyte Consolations

I suspect there is so much more that we can all be doing to help our fellow man in these troubled times we live in.

As Albert Schweitzer, who received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1953 for his philosophy of “reverence for life” once said, “The purpose of human life is to serve and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

I doubt any of us can look back at the stories that define who we are and find one where we could not have been a greater help to others. I know I can’t. But I also know that I’m still a work in progress.



About Amy

I am many things to many people. Daughter, sister, wife, mother, aunt, friend. I am a worshiper of nature on a journey inward, rewriting my story one word at a time.

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