I am one of those people who has always thinks "Help" is a dirty four-letter word. For some reason it feels like failure, it feels like a loss of independence, and it certainly feels vulnerable. Of course, I am always willing to help others - enjoy doing it, but almost never admit I need help or ask for it myself. Well, until recently. In my personal life, I have just come through three serious situations over the past 8 months that required me to ask for help.
The first was in October 2009 when my father had a cardiac event, was in and out of a coma for a week, and then died. I asked for help a lot those two weeks and each time, people were jumping at the chance to be there to support me in some way. I asked for meals, I asked for someone to send me clothes (my family is in St. Louis and I live in ATL), I asked for someone to just check and answer my voicemails. I asked for someone to take care of my cats. I asked for people to pray for my father. I asked a friend from out-of-town to drop everything and come officiate the funeral. Despite the fact it was tremendously hard for me to ask for all of these things, it was easy for people to respond "yes."
For those of you who are pet people, you will understand my second instance .... In April, one of my cats suddenly took deathly ill. The vets didn't think she was going to make it, and the over the course of a week she went from "fine" to battling about a half-dozen ailments. It was all I could do to go back and forth from the vet, to the animal hospital (where she was overnight on i.v.'s), to my house, and back again. I didn't eat or sleep for almost 8 days ... and I found that I had to ask for help that week. I was so distraught, I wasn't functioning, and yet it still took me 5 days into the chaos to ask for help. Just asking a friend to come be with me when I couldn't be alone - a friend who came over and held me while I just cried and cried and cried. A friend who forced me to eat (and cooked for me), a friend who brought over ice cream without my needing to ask. And yet asking for that help was so painful ... but receiving it was so comforting.
Three weeks ago, I had 20" of my colon removed ... and found myself in the third situation where I had to ask for help. Help from family, help from nurses (great nurses rock and are under-appreciated!), help from neighbors and friends. Each time, my independence threatened to get in the way of asking for the help ... but each time my community came through for me on so many levels. Even people from across the globe recognized that one way they could help - even though geographically disadvantaged - was by cheering on my spirits - sending notes, text messages, emails, flowers, books, magazines, gift certificates, etc. (This Jim Joseph Fellows community put a smile on my face more than once the last few weeks!)
So why is it that it takes serious - life threatening (whether for me or for a loved-one of mine) for me to be able to ask for help? Why is when people are so generous and willing to give, I hesitate to ask? Why is it that despite the fact that people have proven to have truly giving spirits over the past 8 months, that I still will wait for crisis to ask for help?
Reflecting on it, I am reminded that one of the first acts in Torah is G-d telling Adam that he needs a help-mate.