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??).
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.
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?