After only a couple of days at school on crutches, N said to me, “I don’t like having to be helped everywhere. I just don’t like feeling like people need to do things for me.” I understood him perfectly. For whatever many reasons, I entered adulthood feeling like it was best not to have to rely on anybody, if I could help it. That relying on other people just meant they could let you down, and you were better off taking care of yourself all by yourself. That felt much safer. And in some respects, I guess it is. But it’s also tiring, and a bit lonely. And sometimes, like when you are on crutches in middle school and need to switch classes and get all your stuff from one room to the next, relying on other people is unavoidable.
I tried to explain some of this to N, about how I understood, and shared that it had taken me many, many years to be okay with asking for help–even though I am always willing to help other people. I told him that people like to help, for the most part. It gives them a good feeling. Thus, in a way, he was giving people a gift, because they could help him, and feel good. It’s a very human thing, but we forget it often, don’t we? It feels good to help other people. It fosters connection. We humans, we didn’t evolve to be lone units. We evolved in groups.
It’s been good, observing other sixth graders helping my kid. I chaperoned a field trip for his science class last week (I was basically his personal attendant, carrying all his stuff and making sure he didn’t tumble off a dock and infect his open wound with who–knows–what from the Chesapeake). During the on-the-dock portion of the program, while I was quietly stressing out every time he moved (narrow dock! no railings! crutches!), N was fretting because it was so hard for him to participate in using the water quality testing equipment. Then another boy came up to him and said, “Let’s test the water together.” He handed N the monitor portion and dropped the sensor into the water while N looked for the readings. “Thank you,” I said, “for making sure to include him.” Thank you for noticing my boy. Isn’t that what these small acts of kindness are, really? Noticing, and then acting.
I picked him up from his after-school activity last week and found him waiting with two boys, one holding his backpack and the other holding his water bottle and sweatshirt. Yes, they’d been asked to do so by the teacher, but neither was complaining. I thanked them and was met with a large smile. It feels good to help.
The small acts of kindness require little more than paying attention. Am I paying attention? I try. To walk through the world mindful of where I am and what’s around me, rather than lost in my own head. To notice the person who may be struggling and remove the obstacle. Like the man backing out of the Whole Foods elevator (because parking is below the store) in his motorized shopping cart, but several carriages were just enough in his way. Simple enough to move the carriages so he could maneuver his way out. “Thank you,” he said, looking me in the eye, once he’d backed out and turned around. That look in the eye–I got the sense he felt noticed, and appreciated it. Perhaps this is the best most important thing any of us can do with our lives: notice our fellow humans and do our part to remove the small obstacles when we can.
I’m not sure if this space may evolve a bit. With a bit more time during the day for my own thoughts to quietly percolate, I find more things brewing that I may want to write up and share, along with the posts about making and creating. It’s all the art of life, after all.