Sunday, April 1, 2012

Be kind

recital3
Before her recital yesterday, she displayed all of the emotions so familiar to anyone who has ever been asked to get up and perform. Why had she signed up? Why had I made her sign up? (I hadn't.) She wasn't going to do it. No one could make her.

I quickly deduced that the growls and howls were nerve-induced, and did my best not to be too peeved (even while dressing her, which she insisted I do, and which set my teeth on edge having just read a piece in the newspaper about my generation's ridiculous parenting methods that cater to our children's every need). Anxiety does unpleasant things to most of us, and when it's a new feeling, of course we don't know how to cope.

So my goal was to keep her going, get her there, reassure her (even while wondering, gee, has she actually practiced enough??).

recital2
And then she played with complete confidence. She smiled, she introduced herself, her fingers met the keys firmly, and she bowed afterward grinning from ear to ear. Had I been another parent watching, I might have envied having such an apparently confident and well-prepared child. I would have been wrong, of course; she was as roiling with nerves as any of the others, and she rose to the occasion, playing better than I'd ever heard her play at home. Mysterious things, performances. It's fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we're called on. My heart was pounding with pride.

She was not amused by our April Fool's joke this morning, however. I told her that she'd been asked to come back and play again today. Only the best performers had been asked, Kevin added. What? No way, nuh uh! Not going! She missed the compliment altogether.

:::

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An odd thing happened on Friday afternoon, after I'd posted about feeling aimless and wanting to bring good into the world. I went out for lunch with a friend, then stopped in to say hello to Kevin at his office, then stepped outside again and saw, directly in front of me, not three feet away, an elderly woman struggling with a walker. It took me half a second to reach her, and help her sit and rest. She'd had a fall and was rattled, confused. She'd walked a long way. She could not remember the name of her destination, but could describe it and knew what she was going there to do. Together, after some rest, we set out to find it together, and we did. It cost some time, and little else. She thanked me, but it was I who wanted to thank her. It was a pleasure to be able to help.

Later, reflecting on it at home, I thought about how grateful I was that I'd had the time to stop and help. When I'm rushed (which is often), it is harder to see, to stop, to take time. I also thought about how much I love helping; and I thought, this is what I would like to do with my life. But of course, how often do such situations present themselves, such simple one-to-one equations of need to ability to help? When I think about helping in more formal/institutional settings, it feels more complicated. I question my motives; I question my helpfulness. For example, when I helped this woman find where she was going, that was all I did. I did not delve deeper. I did not get to the root causes or make an attempt to prevent the situation from occurring again. I asked whether she'd been hurt in her fall, and she told me that she was fine, and I accepted that. She said she had family in town (I asked), and I accepted that they would be looking out for her in the future. I sensed that she valued her dignity. At what point does help become meddling? These are boundary questions. I tend to err on the side of caution. Because I don't know the answers. Not all of them. Not even most of them. All I know is be kind.

There is much need in the world. Patterns recur. Pain fragments. Hurt multiplies. Some problems go deep, deep, deep.

How easy it is to take soup to a sick friend. How easy it is to quietly hug one of my children when he or she is sad. How easy it is to help a lost stranger find her destination. Is helping as simple as that? Or does it -- should it -- go deeper?

10 comments:

  1. Addie wasn't amused by my April Fool's joke either. I will write about it later on my blog!

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  2. Carrie, I think that kind of helping means a lot. Some of my best memories of Africa are moments where someone just offered some small help for an immediate need, in a kind way without asking more. This kind of help can make a great deal of difference in someone's life, especially if they're feeling isolated or are in a confusing situation.

    I think finding these opportunities to help requires mostly just attentiveness, and maybe a *little* bit of willingness to cross some of our basic social boundaries. Not to meddle, but just to announce one's availability, to offer help and ask if it's needed.

    I think it's a really lovely way of helping; thank you for sharing this story with us.

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  3. You ask an excellent question. It is so satisfying to give and see that I have met the need squarely. . . but when the need is bigger and the end of it less clear. . . I tend to freak and back away.

    One of my mantras is "be kind." And I mean to myself, too.

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  4. Coindicentally, today was a recital for MY kids. So, while Fooey was here, I did a mock recital with the whole household to get my big kids ready. We tried intruding, bowing, turning out pages, etc. Fooey loved it, and performed beautifully in our living room venue. And later that day, my kids did the same - amazing!

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  5. She never said, Marnie! Glad she was willing to do it. (We tried to get her to perform last night for guests, and she would only agree if the door to the living-room was closed so no one could see her.)

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  6. Thank you, Carmen and Margo, for your thoughts on helping. And yes, I apply "be kind" to myself too -- or try to remember to. It is easier to be kind to others when I'm in the habit of being kind to myself, I find.

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  7. Congrats to Fooey on her performance! It was a pleasant surprise to see your family, among several others that we know, in the audience for the recital that Aila also participated in.

    I love the pride that my girls are developing in learning to perform and speak to a crowd etc. thru their piano classes.

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  8. "Mysterious things, performances. It's fascinating to see what gets drawn out of us when we're called on." Yes! And, it strikes me that this is relevant to 'helping,' as well. What gets drawn out of us when we are presented with a need. So important to think through these things, isn't it? I often think how care requires a kind of transgressing of boundaries, requires/creates intimacy. Your question of how helping can/should go deeper strikes me as a crucial question about what commmunity is/can be. I love your blog--and should have responded long ago. Thanks!

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  9. Hi Leah, Aila looked very well-prepared too! It is a nerve-wracking situation and the kids handled it well. I hope Fooey will be willing to sign up again, having had this positive experience (we shall see ...).

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  10. Hi Lisa,
    Thank you for commenting and for introducing yourself. I enjoyed looking at your blog too -- and I see you've got a call out for essays. I would love to submit an essay to your anthology, if inspiration strikes.
    Thanks for joining in on the conversation.

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