Twice in my life I’ve spent some time with one-armed men (and a one-legged man but he was dead and telling no tales). Both times the question that burned for me was “How does he wash his hands?” I even screwed up the nerve to ask one of the men. He looked at me stonily and answered “I manage.” That answer neither cleared up the mystery nor give me any confidence in his hand hygiene.
Meeting these men conjured the memory of my mother announcing “one hand washes the other” with cheery satisfaction as we completed a task together that was exponentially easier to do as a team than solo – think folding fitted bed sheets.
That expression coupled with my mother’s contentment as she said it invariably induced a lucid visual of soapy hands sliding over each other, cleaning and being cleaned, engaged in a mutually rewarding exercise. Then I’d wonder, “Well, is there any other way to wash one’s hands?”
Apparently there is, but I don’t know the answer and the one-armed men are not telling.
Last week something suddenly popped in my knee. The pain was debilitating and frightening. But most troubling for me was feeling out of control – I didn’t know what was wrong or what to do.
I have always done things for myself. When I was a child, my mother was distracted and busy trying to do it all herself – raise three children alone, work full time, go to school, maintain a household. I learned very quickly to not ask for things and to rely on myself.
That self-reliance is a blessing and a curse. I’m proud that I’m capable and resourceful. But, more than any knee injury could, I hobble myself because I do not want to ask for help. I don’t want to be rejected. I don’t want to impose. I don’t want to need people.
But sometimes I just cannot do it all myself and this was one of those times.
I phoned a neighbour and asked if I could borrow a cane from his collection. He promptly brought me a selection of canes and walking sticks to choose from.
I called another neighbour and asked if he was free to take me to the hospital. He was and on the way to the emergency room he even arranged a later date to run errands for me.
The next day, I phoned the office to ask if someone could unlock my laptop and have it waiting for me at the security desk. I said I’d send a cab over to pick it up. The response was “Oh no. We can’t do that. We’ll bring it over. And do you need anything from the pharmacy?” The laptop and Tylenol were delivered within the hour along with best healing wishes from our security team.
And so it went. I soon realized that every time I asked for help, I got it – and more!
We all like to feel needed and useful. People want to help. But sometimes we need to be helped. Admitting when you need to ask for help and receiving it gracefully is just as important as giving help; helper and helpee need each other.
p.s. I had a Baker’s cyst rupture in my knee. It’s healing nicely and I’m up and walking around again.
Perhaps the simplest but deepest wisdom is just being happy.
With my 50th birthday less than three weeks away, I decided to list 50 things that make me happy. This list is in no particular order and by no means is it complete. I’ve left off the big and obvious ones – my friends, family, job and health
|1. Learning something completely new – especially a concept or idea that forever changes the way I understand the world.
|2. Kindness – more and more this is the trait I respect and admire and want to emulate
3. The full moon.
|4. History. I’m fascinated by the past and how enduring and universal human nature is even as cultures, technologies and ideas change.
5. Reading poetry. Here’s my favourite poem.
|6. A great big laugh. It’s the best day when I’ve laughed until I’m in tears.
|7. Ghost stories.
8. Snorkelling –only the sound of my own rhythmic breathing and a secret underwater kingdom before me.
|9. Foot rubs and scalp massages.
11. Cooking and baking – it’s like magical alchemy right in my kitchen
12. Fancy soaps, especially handmade soaps
|13. Dawn – still and stirring, promising a fresh start.
|14. Watching dancing of any type – from the ballet to the Maori haka.
|15. Coronation Street. I’ve been watching since I was 25 years old and it’s like an old friend now.
16. Stargazing. Contemplating the universe is mind busting and humbling.
17. Champagne cocktails.
|18. The Internet, email, text etc. My father lived in Germany when I was a child and I only knew him from handwritten letters and the very rare, rushed, short phone call. How would our relationship have been if we had had Skype and email and file sharing?
19. And having said that, I love to getting real mail – handwritten addresses on a card or parcel – hooray!
|20. Cheese. I’m pretty sure it’s my favourite food.
|21. Being naked. I’ve hate wearing clothes and only do it out of civility and for warmth.
|22. Animals. They amaze me with their sheer variety, beauty, zenlike purpose, abilities and authenticity.
|23. Frogs singing on a hot summer night.
24. Walking through the woods – any season or weather!
25. Getting into a freshly made bed – the sheets crisp and clean. Ahhhh!