Asking for Help

I don’t know what to say to frame my grief over Sunday’s shooting in Orlando, how to make sense of that kind of broken, hateful, fury. We keep saying that love will overcome everything, but reading the stories of the victims and looking at their pictures, it seems that nightclub was full of love. I don’t know what to say, I’m just sad right now. And I’m so sorry that my queer friends, who have struggled with feeling unsafe or outside for much of their lives, feel even more acutely unsafe. I love you guys.

For weeks now, the idea of asking for help has been coming up in different ways–in conversation, in things I’ve been reading, in my interactions with others. I just finished reading A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit. Near the end is a passage in which Solnit recounts a story she heard told at the Zen Center in San Francisco. The story is about a blind man called the Turtle Man who sells chocolates to the center each year. One day the man telling the story came out and heard a voice saying “help, help, help” and sees that it is the Turtle Man, waiting to cross the street.

“So I thought, isn’t that really amazing? What an amazing life. You walk along and you reach a barrier and you stop and you just call out help. You don’t know who you’re talking to, you don’t know who’s around if anyone, and you wait, and then somebody turns up and they help you across that barrier, and then you walk on knowing that pretty soon you’re going to meet another barrier and you’re going to have to stop again and cry out help, help, help…

He considers that for Turtle Man, leaving the house at all, getting out of bed, requires an enormous leap into the literal dark.

“Maybe if I really paid attention to my life I’d notice that I don’t know what’s going to happen this afternoon and I can’t be fully confident that I’m competent to deal with it. Maybe we’re willing to let in that thought.”

This is the source of so much of our anxiety and unrest, the what if is really what if I can’t handle it? What if I can’t survive it? What if it’s too much, what if it’s beyond the scope of my capacity? So far nothing, however terrible, has overcome me completely. I have survived it all. If you’re reading this, the same applies to you.* Which is to say, so far, so good.

“It’s okay to realize that life has a mysterious quality to it, it has an element of uncertainty, it’s okay to realize that we do need help, that calling out for help is a very generous act because it allows others to help us and it allows us to be helped. Sometimes we’re calling out for help. Sometimes we’re offering help, and then this hostile world becomes a very different place.”

Solnit has another book out more recently called Falling Together, and like Sebastian Junger’s Tribe, it explores the social benefits of disaster. The ways people come together in catastrophic situations. When you help someone, you get a dopamine boost. You feel competent–nothing in the world is better than feeling competent. My four least favorite words to say are “I need your help.” They are also probably the four words I respond to the most purposefully when I hear them. I love helping people, I love being called upon for my particular skill set. Everyone else probably does too. What am I withholding from others when I don’t ask for help? By ‘trying not to be a bother’ am I possibly being ungenerous? Am I clinging to ego and compromising an opportunity for connection? How can we create community if each member isn’t given the opportunity to share his or her strengths?

This isn’t about standing around waiting for direction, or for someone to carry you all the way; it’s about recognizing your goal, walking towards it and realizing that you will need help and it will arrive if you can find the words to ask for it. And then continuing to walk, on your own steam, until you need help again. Needing help isn’t a reason to stop walking. Asking for help is how you can keep walking, and usually in the process of articulating what we need, we discover that when broken into actual little tasks, what we need isn’t so big. It’s just too big for us. Knowing your weaknesses is just as important as knowing your strengths. Weaknesses do not negate strengths.

So your prompt is to think deeply about what you need help with. Both the literal small tasks and the broader emotional barriers you’re working to overcome. I’d say focus a little more on narrowing down the little ones–really really narrow them down. It’s easier to ask for particular, small help, and it’s easier to identify the right person to ask for help when you know what help you need. Your opening line, from Adrienne Rich’s Diving Into the Wreck:

Nothing can be done but by inches…

You know the drill: write this down, write for 20 minutes, email it to me if you like. I would like that.

*in the movie Ghost, ghost Patrick Swayze did manage to type a little, so it’s not without precedent to imagine a ghost on the ‘net. I just think if I was a ghost with access to the Internet, I’d probably just watch this:



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