My professional work in the coming week seems especially lonely. This past week I was reminded of being attentive to other people, their gifts, their struggles, and the ways our lives depend upon and draw from one another. Helping, supporting, and being a catalyst are a few of the ways I enact being attentive to others. As I try to more honorably love others and myself, I ponder what these words mean for me. Because…when I am self-conscious and sometimes afraid to be myself that robs me of joy.
Helping is relatively easy for me to do, but not always honorable. Just out of college, a young twenty something; I began dating a guy I met at church—honest. I had recently moved 1000 miles from home for an internship. My monthly salary was the same amount as my monthly rent on a one-room efficiency apartment. Needless to say, I lived frugally.
This guy, Jim, was from a wealthy and prominent family in my new town. We had only been dating a few weeks when his parents were having a party for their anniversary—I think 25th, a grand affair. I donned a passable dress I had made myself and accompanied Jim to his parent’s home. After a short time greeting his parents and a few guests, I quickly found my niche. I saw a need—helping the “help” in the kitchen—a few women who were washing all the dishes by hand. Most of the evening that is where I was, washing dishes, refilling trays, whatever was helpful to keep the party going.
At the end of the evening, before Jim took me home, we said goodbye to his parents. His mother gushed, “What a gift you have given us!”
I was a bit confused; she continued saying something about my hard work behind the scenes for the success of the day. I did feel honored that she had noticed and appreciated my efforts, but I never thought of what I did as a gift. Honestly, I felt self-conscious and out of place as soon as I arrived. Helping in the kitchen gave me purpose and kept me from having to talk to people I didn’t know. Not very noble. Helping, as I did on this occasion, is often more about me than the object- unfortunately a word that fits—of the action.
For me, helping is sometimes more about doing something to feel useful, than about building community. Sometimes helping means doing something that someone could easily do for themselves but I want to feel needed. Often, helping gives me control of the situation and that is not helpful. To be continued…