Thursday, September 29, 2011

"I Get by with a Little Help from My Friends"

There's no suitable analogy, at least not one I can pull out of the air. Having a flat tire on a wheelchair immobilizes a vehicle as does a flat tire on a car, but most drivers can get out and walk.

I've had three flat tires in the last year, all repaired "on site" by my friendly and terrifically handy neighbor, Ron. The last one came Tuesday morning, a slow leak that was probably the result of me damaging a valve stem by hitting it on the van's wheelchair lift or on a door frame.

The two pertinent questions you are asking I cannot answer:
  1. Why don't wheelchairs have run-flat tires?
  2. Why is the valve stem mounted in such a fashion to be vulnerable to damage?
The thing I can answer, or at least try to vocalize after thinking about it for a day or three is, What does it mean emotionally and psychologically to be ever-dependent on another person when a minor thing goes wrong?

The answers are two: Good. Bad.

It is such a simple thing, a flat tire. Were I physically able, I could have had it fixed in a few minutes. Not being physically able, it took longer because help arrives in stages.
  1. I get angry.
  2. I get confused.
  3. I give into the idea I need help.
  4. I feel guilt.
  5. I put aside my ego and ask for help.
  6. I wait while help is rendered.
A few minutes evolves into a few hours.

For mundane tasks most people can accomplish themselves, I have been dependent upon others for more than a half century. It has never gotten any easier to ask for assistance, nor any easier to accept assistance.

I resent asking for assistance. I am embarrassed to ask for assistance. I finally accept that it is a trade-off, the humbling of self, the admission of dependence that must be made so that I can function with the maximum independence. I purchase freedom with ego.

Conversely, most people are gracious. Ron is, especially so, for he is the embodiment of a good neighbor, the sort of person who will render a favor simply because a favor is needed. I am gracious in return, not only with Ron but with any other person who bridges the gap between my disability and my independence. And truth be told, graciousness on my part is a survival tactic.  

I understand my motive, my need, but I am never sure of the motive of the person I ask to help me. My need is simple, but their reaction is certainly far more complex.
  1. Guilt
  2. Pity
  3. Charity
  4. Generosity
  5. Good will
  6. Karma
I certainly try to ask for help in a way that will least inconvenience the person. I say the magic words of "Please" and "Thank you." I am polite and patient. But all of that is an act. Rather it is not so much an act as it is the intellectual understanding that I must behave in a certain fashion into to exist successfully in this world.

I need assistance. I ask. Another person gives. Perhaps it is a function of the contract that allows most societies to work writ small in the form of a deflated tire.


deanna said...

You say things so well. "I purchase freedom with ego." The older I get, as someone with shoulder/neck issues, the more often I must ask stronger, younger (sometimes even older) people for help lifting. This sometimes looms large inside my self. (Hope that doesn't sound like an attempt to trivialize your experience.) Physical strength is a passing whim, really. Someday (soon?) I'll have nothing but what's inside, the "me" I'll take wherever I'll go at the end. Anyway, thanks again Gary for another life-prompt toward an evening's pondering.

Ramsey Hootman said...

I think what you talk about here goes to the root of what friendship is. I've spent my life feeling like it's a trade; I measure how much I give, and if I come to the conclusion that someone else is giving me more than I give them, then I feel guilty and unworthy. If the opposite is true, then I find myself feeling resentful.

But I think this reflexive way of looking at friendship is wrong. Whatever measure we use is going to be different than someone else's. I often agonize over the fact that I am naturally unsympathetic and frequently unable to give my friends comfort when bad things happen. On the other hand, I'm very good at coming up with plans of attack and everyone calls me in a crisis.

I think friendship is more of a "pay it forward" or community model. We can't all be everything, so we all have to give in parts. And what we're missing, others have. If we all share what we've got, then we all have our needs met. Fixing a flat tire is probably no big deal for your neighbor. It's hard for you, simple for him. So why shouldn't he do it? Maybe you give him something he lacks. Or maybe you don't. Maybe you give something to someone else, who meets someone else's need, and so on.