“I am here for you.”
We mean well when we say the words. We look at stories in the news, like Kelli Stapleton, and we say there should be awareness. We agree there needs to be hope for the hopeless. We beg each other to confess our needs and our desperation. To confess our weakness.
To simply ask for help.
I’ve been thinking about Kelli Stapleton because her name is frequently featured in my news feed. I try to imagine feeling as if I cannot live with my own child. A child who I love more than myself. A child who needs me. A child who no one else will ever care for the way I do. A child who makes me feel as if I am in a prison, and I cannot ignore the knowledge that I am already serving a life sentence. I imagine what kind of guilt and hopelessness comes with that feeling. I can only imagine, because thankfully that is not my reality.
But if it were. What is someone else going to do for me? Surely I have calculated and weighed the possibilities a thousand times, searching for the easiest path forward. Maybe my perseverance has become my identity, and that identity may be all that is keeping me moving forward at all. If I can paint a picture to the world of keeping my head above water against the odds, maybe I won’t drown. I can imagine that.
I’m not going to write yet another post about Kelli; instead I want to talk about how all this imagining makes me feel about a reoccurring theme in life. Not just in the autism community, but for everyone who has ever experienced desperation, hopelessness, or sorrow. A loss of anything that changes our hope for the future. Disability, death, serious illness, financial crisis, broken relationships. These things are mountains we climb in life, and we all fear them enough to recognize when someone is standing before one in defeat.
I think about where I would have to be before I would ask someone for their help in any situation, and I don’t know how bad it would have to get. I don’t know that I would ever ask. I have had times in my life when I probably needed help, and I am sure it was available. It is easy to say, “no, thank you.” And so we say it.
Sometimes it’s best not to ask what you can do, but to just do it. The truth is that we don’t always intend to help. Asking what we can do is often just a thing we say to be polite. The answer has become automatic and expected. It doesn’t make it less honorable, and it doesn’t mean it isn’t appreciated. Most of the time that sentiment really is all someone needs, so don’t go crazy baking me casseroles and taking over my house the next time I get the flu. An offer that I politely decline will still be more than enough. In fact, at times it has changed everything.
But we know when it isn’t enough. We know when someone is overwhelmed. We know when someone has lost the person they couldn’t stand to lose. We know when someone has given up. There are times we have so much empathy for another person’s struggle that we keep offering in hopes we will be taken up on our offers. We desperately want to do something, but we are too afraid to act without direction.
What would you want someone to do for you? Go ahead and do that. Not sure what would be best? “I am going to do A, B, or C. Which one would be most helpful?” Make it clear you will be doing something. Make it easier to accept than refuse.
“What can I do?” are the right words, but it takes actual courage to answer that question. It takes courage to ask for help even after the most sincere friend says, “Please call me if you need anything.” Don’t require someone to be courageous when they are most vulnerable. Don’t ask someone to go outside of their comfort zone when they are lost, or to swallow their pride when they need it most. Don’t hold up an offer for help to someone who is too weak to reach for it. Hand it to them. Odds are they are too weak to refuse.
Don’t ask. Don’t offer. Don’t wait for an invitation. Simply show up.