Mr. Rogers used to share something his mother told him when he was a boy: “If you are ever in a situation where you’re lost, or in danger, look for the helpers. There are always helpers.”
If he were a boy in need of help, he would be looking for me. I am a helper.
The interesting thing about helpers is, their first instinct is to step up; to take care of things. They jump in, exhibit calm, do what needs to be done, and try to make sure everyone is taken care of.
In seminary, we had a course about the different types of people. I learned that these people are, in a way, saviors. They don’t do it for themselves, or for praise; they are naturally service-oriented.
And the downside of that is, “nobody saves the savior.”
When I went to the emergency room earlier this year, I was on my last thread of a nerve. My pain tolerance is almost dangerously high. There are several reason for that, which is a different essay entirely. But that Wednesday, I was in tremendous pain. My left abdomen was bulging, and the pain was so intense I could barely breathe.
My son called that morning … his sister had called him. — apparently with a “check on Mom” alert; I’d told her I might need to head to the ER. He insisted he come and take me. “Mom, you are NOT taking an Uber to the hospital! I’ll be there in about an hour.”
Yes. I would have taken an Uber. But was so happy to have my big, strapping son coming to go with me.
We arrived at Saint Thomas Rutherford and I was quickly admitted. [Ed note: this was before the Covid. No masks were required]
I received the standard issue hospital bracelets and was shown to a room. My nurse, Sam, was a beautiful young girl. She clucked over me, took my vitals, we joked around a bit … when I’m nervous my first go-to is to try and make others laugh. I had Sam laughing.
Lying on that bed in that room in that hospital, I was not the helper. Everyone else was a helper. I was the one being helped. The gravity of that reverse was so ‘opposite,’ I could barely handle it. My eyes teared up several times. The kindness of my son, of Sam, of Dr. Steinberg, of Don the guy who wheeled me down the hall for the CT scan … was almost too much to take. In spite of the pain I was in, the helper in me felt like I should be fixing them all dinner, giving them a haircut, making them an outfit.
I got my CT pictures taken, got my belly poked and prodded, and the diagnosis was, once again, “undetermined.” But that’s good, right? They’d have seen the bad stuff, if there was any. That’s what I’m thinking, anyway.
And I wasn’t there very long, maybe a couple of hours. Chris brought me home, and urged me to come stay with them in Franklin. I declined. I was perfectly fine, except for the undiagnosed pain. And as we continued to rule out the scary possibilities, I was more and more inclined to just roll with it.
But after my son left, and as I looked through the file of papers they sent me home with, I couldn’t help it. I cried. I was feeling pretty fragile, and deeply humbled; so overwhelmed by the kindness everyone had shown me. A helper is not used to being helped and, quite frankly, is not altogether comfortable with it. But I knew God’s hand was in all of it. I could see it.
And I heard one of the messages being given to me: “Let others attend to you.”
It’s been months since then, and the problem seems to have gone away on its own. I’m back to climbing on ladders and taking on projects that are generally bigger than I am.
But I’ll never forget that Wednesday in January, when my daughter, my son, the hospital attendants … they were my helpers.
I believe in the inherent goodness of people. I believe that, when we’re born, deep down at our core, even in the worst of us, goodness abides. Time, and relationships, and places; experiences we have can, in many ways, play a role in determining whether that goodness blooms and flowers. Or not.
There are very few people that I’ve allowed into my inner circle; to know my story. They each hold parts of it, but nobody’s privy to all of it. I’ve always thought it too heavy a burden for anyone else to carry: abusive alcoholic parents; rape; a marriage where emotional abuse was so pervasive, the final betrayal so breathtaking, that it’s taken me almost a quarter century following the divorce to even get back to square one. Those are the highlights. Every creative dream, save motherhood, sabotaged. Save motherhood. Motherhood saved. It saved me.
I sit here on this chilly November morning, coffee in hand, and think back on the chapters I’ve lived through. They’ve been difficult; the few close friends who know some of the intimate details swear I should be dead. They look at me in awe. And I laugh. No, I should be alive. Very MUCH alive. In my dreams, I should be twenty seven and feeling this way, but I’m not. Time marches on, and so have I.
I’ve come to realize that the people in my life who betrayed me through the years−while they never should have been so abusive or cruel−needed something I couldn’t give them. They were coming from their own pain. I know that. And pain takes many forms: anger, judgment, cynicism, betrayal, violence, addiction … and too many more than I have space to list here.
It took me a couple of self-examined decades to arrive at this philosophical place. I’ll admit, I don’t always like being here. It would be easier to sit in judgment, to make those who hurt me “wrong.” But the thought that always rings in my heart when that judgment creeps in is: “Finding their way.” They were finding their way.
When my father died in March, I went home to Oklahoma. My daughter came here to Tennessee from Atlanta and we rode together.
I’d dreaded the funeral gathering for decades. A quarter century, to be exact. Since my youngest sister and my husband had their very public affair. Yes. That. But the time that stretched between then and now was made up of the self-examined decades I mentioned earlier. The woman-of-me who arrived at the funeral home that Friday evening was not the same sleepless woman whose hair and eyelashes had fallen out from the betrayal back in 1990.
I was in the viewing chapel with my children when I saw my sister come in. I walked over to her and wrapped myself around her. I took her face in my hands and whispered to her that everything’s okay. I had no preconception of what would happen; I’d just kept asking the Holy Spirit to take over. And He did. It was probably the hardest and the most natural moment I’ve ever experienced in my life. After twenty five years, we stood together to bury our Daddy. In each of our worlds, with a relationship broken by choices that could not be undone, we’d known this day would arrive. And now here we were. We’d found our way.
So getting back to me, sitting here with my coffee. I have to chuckle, because I started writing this morning as a way to share my thoughts about the whole kerfuffle surrounding a cup. A coffee cup. A red coffee cup. I haven’t heard from anyone who’s actually upset about that cup. But I’ve heard plenty from people who are upset about the people who are upset.
First, I think the company whose cup it is (and I won’t mention their name, because wow! Their “anti-campaign campaign” is already off the charts successful) has executed this brilliantly. And a cup with no graphics is cheaper than a cup with graphics. Another win for them. Just … genius.
Second, the ingredient at the center of this branding creativity is the required manipulation of people. It’s the use of “human capital” and their proclivities, in order to achieve “trending” status; instigating the posting, and the pitting, of people against each other. Persons of one “group” calling those in a “group” with opposing views names. Really? This is not who we, at our core, truly are.
But yes. It’s happening. Over a paper cup. And unnamed coffee company is LOVING it.
There’s even rumor that one presidential candidate called for a boycott of said coffee company. I checked before writing, to make sure I quoted him accurately, and discovered there was actually no call. In fact, his first words on the subject were, “Maybe we should,” and his last were, “but seriously, I don’t care.” Again. It’s a coffee cup. Yet so much faux sturm und drang. Smart people of all stripes are embroiled in this non issue. Well played, unnamed coffee company.
And as things do, I’m reminded that this, too, shall pass. Next week there will be yet another deliberate media manipulation of well meaning people. Good people, on every “side;” people who are finding their way.
What I’m saying, in probably way too many words, is that part of the “finding” of our way that’s required is the brutal task of self examination. The minute I think I’m better, holier, smarter, more evolved, more caring than you or any other thinking person, I’ve entered the ranks of the Pharisee. My daily call, first thing in the mirror, and at various times throughout each day is: “Check yourself.”
For today, part of finding my way is collecting shoeboxes to fill with goodies for children who might otherwise get no Christmas. I’m going to fill as many as I possibly can. I’ll do it because it’s fun, not because I’m wonderful. I also do it because I enjoy the thought of making the lives of children somehow better. So I have to be honest about the fact: I do it mostly for me.
And during the course of days I’ll make my own coffee. I’ll drink it in my own cup. I’ll pray for my Daddy. I’ll love my sister. Yes, I do. And will. I’ll wish my ex well, though I have to admit, sometimes that still has a glitch to it. I’ll love my children and grandchildren as big as I possibly can, which is the easiest thing I do in my life.
It’s just the story of me, finding my way. And praying for you, that you are finding yours.