I have always had trouble asking people for help, it is one of my worst failings. It is a strange thing because I love to help others, I am the first to come forward in a crisis; it makes me happy to help someone in need, but it is difficult for me to accept help for myself.
I have wondered about this trait of mine for years – is it pride, is it awkwardness, is it shame that stops me from saying to the people who can help me ‘Look, I need you to pull me out of the dark, I am mired in shadow?’
My family and friends think I am capable. In High School I won the ‘Most Dependable’ accolade five years in a row. I am quick-thinking, calm, unafraid on the outside; a maelstrom of cloud and woe on the inside.
My neighbour knocked on my door this afternoon. She needed my help. A little bird was lying under her scribbly gum tree, she wasn’t sure if it was dead. “I daren’t touch it,” she said. “I might really hurt it.” The little bird was dead, it had fallen from the nest, its little fluffy grey feathers splayed by the impact of the fall. My neighbour feigned horror, sympathy, but I could see she was more repulsed than bereaved.
I whisked the bird away, took it to my garden, shuffled in the shed for half an hour to find a suitable container as my neighbour whistled along with the radio, the bird forgotten. I placed the poor little creature in a tiny box and buried it under my maple tree. I wept for it, for the fact that no one had been there to help it when it had fallen, that I had come too late. I felt like that bird, plummeting, with nothing to hold onto but the denial of clarity.
I like to say :”Everything’s all right, everything’s fine,” maybe in the hope that if I say it often enough it will be true. But I have found that this form of self-deception is so close to self-destruction, it can be as dangerous as casting yourself into fire.
The promise of grace lures me into looking on the bright side. Sometimes it works, sometimes I feel faithless.
My husband nearly died this time last year. He is/was a biker and was hit by a car at 70km/h. He broke his collarbone, six ribs and punctured a lung. When I saw him at the accident scene everything stopped, it was like someone pulled a switch and the whole world moved into freeze frame. The only sound was my son screaming : “Save my Dad, save my Dad.”
After lengthy surgery he was in hospital for 6 weeks. Two weeks after his release he was readmitted. He had blood clots on his lungs and was moments away from a stroke. The surgery to remove the clots took six gruelling hours and cost $25,000, which thankfully, was covered by our insurance. But there are always other costs.
My husband was off work for 5 months. It is his business so I had to keep it going. I had to give up my own job as well as hold the fort at home and play Florence Nightingale. It was hard but I got through it. My mantra of ‘everything’s fine’ worked a treat in that instance. But it is during the aftermath that it becomes harder to fool yourself, especially when the bills keep coming and tiredness and fear choke like wet paint in an airless room.
My husband is not completely recovered. He will sometimes cower on the way to work because he thinks we are going to crash. He often gets me to pull over so he can walk the rest of the way. On bad nights he dreams of paralysis or of being buried alive. People comment on his diminished appearance but I assure them ‘everything is all right.’
It grows exhausting, repeating yourself. It feels like a mistake. I thought that nobody had noticed but today I experienced help, aimed in my direction, freely given. My son’s piano teacher offered to teach him for free until the end of the year moments before I was about to tell her I couldn’t afford the lessons right now. He is only 11 but he can play the blues and she can’t let him go.
My friend who owns a beach house that looks out onto a horizon that lasts forever offered it to me for the Christmas holidays for free. And my mother gave me some money as a gift not a loan.
I am the one who cannot say : “Can you help me?” yet help has descended unexpectedly. Light spreads. The kitchen smells of vanilla and icing sugar. My mother has left a plate of little cakes and an envelope filled with cash. I feel as if I have entered another world where I can’t hide anything from anyone. It is liberating, this helping, this kindness, the colours of it are not as unsteady as I thought.
The kettle sings. I pour my tea and eat a cake soft as memories of childhood. My son plays Ray Charles in the other room. I mentally pack my Christmas suitcase and buy us all a pair of new shoes. And I realise that help, whether given or received, is as radiant as a ripple of water in the morning. And it should not be refused, whatever its form.