Last week Joe hurt his back helping move a piece of furniture. He said he didn't notice it at the time it happened, or even through the rest of the evening, but when he got up in the morning he was in pretty severe pain. He moved around like he was a spry 106. I couldn't watch him sit down or stand up because the pain was so obvious on his face - it looked almost unbearable.
We had plans to go out and meet friends for lunch and we both really wanted to go. Joe said that he was fine walking, his problem was doing almost anything else. So, we decided to go. Our first obstacle was in getting my feet shod. I need his help to do this. There was no way he'd be able to bend over to assist. Then, he realised that there was no way he could get his shoes tied either. We were stuck.
I suggested we go to the bedroom and use the bed. I'd lie down and he'd put on my socks and shoes, then he'd lie down and I'd tie his sneakers. We agreed to give this a try. We got me done first and then it was my turn. I realised as I was tying Joe's shoes that I hadn't tied a shoe in almost six years. My fingers remembered how to do it though and soon enough his shoes were tied and we were off for lunch.
When we got back home, we reversed the process, and all was well.
I was sorry, obviously, that Joe was in pain but it was also nice to be needed to help him with something he needed. I know I help in many other ways around the house. I help cook dinner. I help with the banking and the finances. I help with organising the schedule. I help fill the laundry basket. So, I do help.
But helping with something more personal, like getting dressed, is a very different thing, isn't it. It's and odd form of intimacy. My fingers tied his laces - see how poetic those are when combined together. My fingers / his laces.
I remember the first time I helped an adult get dressed. He lived on the ward of an institution, I was a new staff. We were all going out. He had his jacket on and he approached me, he lived in the world silently, and held out his jacked. He needed the zipper done up. I had read a whole bunch of university text books. I had done a lot of volunteer hours. But I was unprepared for the impact of that little gesture that asked for help. I knew that the gesture was one of both trust and vulnerability. I got the zipper started and watched him pull it up the rest of the way.
I wondered then - is there anything more honourable that this work?
Now years later I need help with my shoes and socks. I know, now, that what I felt was true. It requires both trust and vulnerability.
Tying Joe's shoe reminded me about the wonder of the gift of giving.
By the next morning Joe's back was better and he no longer needed my help. Even so, I couldn't help but notice, that he tied his shoes quickly without thinking. Already the laces were missing me.