On help

A woman shouted at me, “Aren’t you going to help me?” She seemed to be holding open one of the glass double doors of the Roseville DMV by standing in front of it.

It’s 1999, and I had just renewed my license and was walking out of the building. Because the woman was blocking the right-hand side of the exit, I’d gone through the left, and as I passed her the woman shouted at me.

I turned to look at her, and saw that she was livid. “Do you need help?” I asked, with only slight rudeness. After waiting in line for a good 30 minutes, I was in no mood to be shouted at by random strangers.

“Yes!” she said, still furious. “Can’t you see I’m caught?”

In fact, I couldn’t. But as I walked toward her, I saw that a belt loop of her jeans had somehow gotten hooked on the door’s pushbar. And I quickly realized that, this relatively simple dilemma was made much more complicated by the muscular disorder that hampered the movement of her limbs. I had noticed none of this, because from my angle, it simply appeared as thought she were standing in the doorway, and had been for at least a few seconds while I approached and passed through the door.

I quickly unhooked her and held the door, intending to do so for the duration of her passage into the building. “Okay, there you go.”

But as she stepped forward, her backpack hooked on the same bar, and her progress halted with a jerk as it caught. “Hold on,” I said and quickly freed the bag.

“Goddammit!” She cursed venomously. And when she was finally free of the door, she stalked into the building without looking back.

I was left to wonder what the hell just happened.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time after that experience wondering just what would have to happen for me to approach complete strangers with that kind of bitterness. I can only imagine what it would be like to go through life with the sort of affliction that this woman suffered from. But would that be enough?

A life spent needing to have other people do things for you, things that you are unable to do yourself, could lead a person to that point. It would be humiliating. Especially if you developed the disability later in life, and now, things that you took for granted suddenly require the help of another person.

The feeling of humiliation and powerlessness could definitely drive someone there. And instead of becoming accustomed to relying on others to help you, if that necessity only fostered anger and bitterness at one’s lot in life, then I’m able to imagine falling into that mode of thinking.

As someone who is both prideful and stubborn and yet equally as inept and incapable in many areas of life, I know first-hand how difficult it is to ask someone for help. I tend to avoid it as much as possible, feeling like I should be able to do these things and not imposing on others. I don’t like feeling helpless. I don’t like to feel like a burden.

But I’m trying to stop thinking like that. I know that I like to help people. I know that I feel good when I’m able to help people. And I’m coming to realize that others feel the same. Helping out and doing things for people is a means of expressing friendship and appreciation. So by not asking for help when I need it, I’m depriving people of that expression.

I’ve had to rely on both friends and family to help me with childcare and home maintenance and improvement. Most recently, my good friend Martin spent a good 9 hours of a perfectly good Saturday digging and then filling a long trench 8ft deep in front of my house in order install a French drain to prevent water getting in to the basement. I know that I’m in a significant amount of pain today as a result of my comparatively small role in that endeavor, so I can only imagine the shape he must be in. The least I can do at this point is give the man a public thankering.

Thanks, man.