Amy Halloran is the author of:
Monday, September 21, 2015
Asking for help is important for both patients and family members in CancerLand. But the struggle to ask for help is not unique to caregivers. And the greater gifts that may accrue from asking for help extend far beyond our own homes. Here is an essay from guest writer Amy Halloran
For a long time, I have been wondering why we are afraid of help – afraid of needing it, asking for it, or accepting it. I remember when this wonder began, almost 20 years ago. My baby was a few weeks old. I stood on the stairs with a basket of laundry, floored that I had just rejected my mom’s offer to wash my clothes.
Why? Did I need to prove to her that I would be a good mother when she wasn't around?
I knew my actions were ridiculous, and yet I didn't put down the laundry, go back upstairs and say, yes please, I could use the help. Because I couldn't use the help. I was terrified and more than tired, and yet I didn't dare reveal my vulnerability. This wasn't just about me and my mom. Friends had given us coupons for meals and I couldn’t use them either. Those coupons still sit in a file in my husband's office, and I am still curious about why help is so hard to ask for, and receive.
I thought about this from a new angle, reading Amanda Palmer's book, The Art of Asking. She built her career as a musician around habits of inviting other performers to join her, and gained notoriety for a wildly successful crowdsourcing fundraiser.
The success of that campaign left her wide-open to criticism, as success will, especially for women. Her book grew out of a TED talk where she talks about vulnerability and the necessity of drawing others into our projects.
I got infatuated with the practice of asking. What if it were okay, especially in our highly independent nation, to ask for help? Why is there such a stigma on need? Don't we owe each other support?
I grew up in a safe environment. I had liberties to read and play, to explore nature and trust my friends. We played levitation games in basements. Five or six girls sat on the floor cross-legged, around one girl who lay in the middle. We put two fingers of each hand underneath her, and the girl who sat at the head told a story that ended with the words, light as a feather; we said these words one by one, and then all at once. The leader pushed us through some more phrases, and then we, quiet and excited, helped our friend hover off the floor. Or so we believed.
Such faith and support! If only we could walk around all day feeling light as a feather and held up by our friends. Amanda Palmer refers to a similar experience; crowd surfing at a concert, and being held up by strangers who immediately become friends because of the trust you lend them.
Why couldn't I, as a young mother let people lift me? I wish we felt free to ask more of each other, from our society, and as individuals. How about universal day care to honor the ideals of motherhood? I think our municipalities owe us more than safe water and education; I think we also owe each other good housing, access to affordable and nutritious food, and plenty of respect.
We deserve freedom, but respect doesn't fall like rain. How can we move from platitudes toward equity? I was protected by social umbrellas that let white girls like me float on the fingers of friends. My two sons are cushioned by their race and class, and they get to dream and explore in ways I wish everyone could. My older son dives deep into the land of plants. My younger son falls asleep thinking of new ways to make paper airplanes.
That levitation I did in basements was romantic, but also a metaphor for the practical ways we can reshape our world. My friends and I believed we could hold up the girl in the middle. We were not afraid to work together and chant a phrase that helped us get to our goal. I don't know if we ever lifted each other a millimeter, but it felt like we did.
I would like to find as an adult the same conviction. I would like to be unafraid to ask for help, and I would like a world full of environments where everyone felt the same security. How can we foster safety for kids who are living in crisis and poverty? What kind of social reform do we need to make asking for help, with simple things like dishes, and more complex ones like healthcare and fair housing, an okay thing?
I think there is a link between social justice and interpersonal support. Maybe we need to work backwards toward belief, that fundamental element of trust, before we can work forward to a world that more resembles the one we think the constitution guarantees in America.
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