But I guess she tried. The next time I saw her, I asked about Jenny. “Nothing’s changed,” she said. “I’m getting tired of it. But I see there’s not much I can do.”
“You’re probably doing more than you know,” I said. And for once, I was right. Two weeks later, Marcie told me things were much better. Jenny had made her own decision to break up with her abusive man, and the two roommates had celebrated with an evening out, with a Best Friends Forever theme.
So people, like my rubber plant, do need support. The problem is figuring out how to help, and frequently just being there, like my desk was for the plant, is the most effective approach. When I fall on a sidewalk, I don’t want people pulling me up right away. I’ll just fall again, because I need time to recover. What works is to ask, “Do you want some help?” and “How can I help you?” and take direction from the person in need.
The best help I ever got with a fall was from my friend Maureen Evans, poet and author of Eat Tweet, the Twitter cookbook. I was going to drive her home from writers’ group, and as we walked to my car, I fell and couldn’t get up right away. After a moment, she did something amazing. She sat down on the sidewalk next to me and said, “Tell me if I need to do anything.” She waited there with me for a couple of minutes, until I was able to get up by myself and take her home.
I have never forgotten that beautiful gesture. That was truly helping without helping, doing without doing.
Your stories always move me, David. Thank you again. (I also recently reread much of The Art of Getting Well and was again inspired by its compassionate wisdom, humor, and reminders to be kind to ourselves and our bodies.)
I love this story, David, and I love the way you told it.
I know your advice is good—but difficult for me to follow. It’s hard to see someone suffer when I think I have a good way for her to change and make her life better. I will stop giving her books and advice and just try to be like your desk.
Great article David
I’m going to pass this along to a few people with the intro, “If you *really* want to help me, …” I’ve also written down a few take-away messages as reminders to myself when attempting to give advice. Thank you again for great inspiration.
As a social worker, it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to fix or change someone who we see as suffering, when we think we know what would help. However, I have found that being supportive, letting them know how I see the situation, and just asking how I can help, is often more effective that any unsolicited advice.
A beautiful story about the rubber plant. I can see that I am probably a “fixer” and need to learn better. Probably just need to learn to be a “prop” for people. Sometimes all we can do is listen to people and pray for them.
thanks, david. super entry. it gives me another way of looking at how i can make progress in my relationship with my daughter. way too often i try to do way too much to help her, whether she asks or not, whether she welcomes it or not. rather than helping, i end up pushing her away. i am struggling to learn how to just be present to support her by simply listening to her, rather than always being in problem-solver/protector (translation: controller) mode. thanks again for your helpful article.
Wonderful story, David. Thank you!
really good story and follow-up to your other recent posts
Thank you for a great article. It reminds me of how important it is to have patience, and thoughful presence of mind when offering support. I suppose I would be more open to help if I believed more people understood Maureen’s approach.
What a great story, David. I am one of those people who “help” the wrong way, and this gave me much needed perspective. You always inspire me! Thank you.
Great post, David. I especially liked your sharing with us how your friend helped you when you fell. What a wonderful person, with a wonderful presence, to have as a friend!
I read the whole story. Reminds me of my son, being up when everyone else is asleep so he doesn’t have to deal with the rest of us.
This story touched me in a way that I have not been touched in a while. You know what I have been going through … reading this story let me know that there are persons going through something that they may not be ever able to over come. Thanks for sharing it with my and letting me know this “in order to get to your destination, you must go through a number of things that will only serve to make you stronger in the end”.
Thank you, from someone who is at times in both positions. It’s gotten easier for me to ask for help since I decided to do positive things as often as possible. But since I can’t really do a lot physically, I repay with kindness…I say good things to people who deserve them, I open doors, I make people laugh, I support and encourage people. I am the recipient of so much help in so many ways that I’ve been changing my life just to pay it back. Now that we’re even, I take when I have to and pay back as often as I can. People want to be good; stress drives it out of them.
You can spend years trying to help people when what they really need is to be let go of so they can decide to help themselves.
It’s incredibly hard to do. Totally counter-intuitive. Pains you inside. Often, they start to blame you when they’re no longer able to rely on you as an enabler. But it’s frequently the ONLY way to help.
Definitely hit a chord with me.