Strange to find it is important to receive help or kindness. Not be the giver, bountiful and efficient, but scared, needing reassurance and kindness. I was raised the other way round, self firmly in the back seat if not the trunk. So it feels uncomfortable to be on the taking end.
No wonder the Bible says it is more blessed to give than to receive. I had the most wonderful friend years ago. She gave so generously, endlessly: fifteen years nursing her paralysed sister, then she took in her bedridden father of 96, who lived for a further ten years. She was all set to nurse AIDS patients when her health broke down.
“Kitty,” I begged, “if it is more blessed to give, then please let me blessed and look after you.” Do we come up against the unfinished parts of our lives at the end? So Kitty had to learn to be cared for. Her sister had been a control freak and ended up imprisoned in a wheelchair, dependent on her sister.
When Bill was ill in January, I was so grateful for my friends’ kindness, but also out of balance as if I were somehow incompetent or missing a skin. I was glad to reassume my self-contained coping ID. And I could see Bill opening like a plant in sunlight as his strength came back. One of the hardest things about chronic pain has been feeling a taker in life. It is so vital for health to feel competent and I would kick against an inch more help than I absolutely needed.
Today, I was talking to a sick and worried friend. Of course, offering help and comfort, but also aware of how vulnerable she felt accepting it. She had always come across as strong and private – except when she reached out to me in January. Today, I realized how powerful it is to be indebted because I could say, honestly, “You were a lifeline last winter.” And she could more easily accept my help.
Every giver creates a taker. It’s one of life’s ironies that sometimes it is truly more unselfish to allow someone to give to you. Certainly, all the self-help books tell us of the benefits of volunteering, the glow and satsfaction. Nowhere have I seen anything about what it does to the recipient: reinforcing inadequacies, underlining lack.
So how do I give beneficially? By giving up the glow of satsfaction, only helping where it is really constructive, stopping helping once they are able to manage again? And, if possible, letting them give something back.