Saturday, January 05, 2013

Laced Up

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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dave--I work with seniors who are receiving home-based care. I found your observations about the nature of receiving care to be sweetly poetic.

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

here is my little story about helping an adult dress I never met before; you know in germany I spend a part of the summer at the seaside. It helps my lungs. There is a sweet little coffeplace and the cakes are all baked by the owner abd they have tea...

One day it was starting to rain heavy while I arrived and I had to wait at the door until two older women left their table to leave. Jack Wolfskin clothes are very popular right now and half of the people are wearing them to protect them from wind and weather. I am wearing a light and dark blue version while walking along the beach.
These jackets have two zippers and you can only close them by alining those zippers right together. I know this because I very often struggeled with closing my jacket and helped several younger kids at my aunts place or in my mothers school closing theirs.

So I saw this woman struggeling and after a while asked her if she wanted my help. At first I showed her how it should be done with my one jacket but it would not work with hers. So after asking for permission I was helping a healthy grown up woman closing her jacket. I felt goog and crazy all at one. But the woman was glad she could leave with a closed jacket to go in the rain and I was glad I cold help her and sit at the now empty table.

Sometimes help feels like a form of love towards strangers...


Dave Hingsburger said...

Julia, thanks for the story, pop by tomorrow ... I wish you were on the committee I am writing about.

Susan said...

Just like Thomas the Tank Engine, I like to be a useful engine and when asked to help I am only too happy to jump in. I only wish I was better at perceiving the need and asking (respectfully of course) if I can help out. Yes, you are right, there is intimate - is "sacred" the right word? (yes I think so?) - about the crossing of lines of personal space in order to help and be helped. It is a place both of high honour, and of great risk - for both help-er and help-ee. I often think that it is a gift we give others when we ask them to help. If it is "more blessed to give than to receive", then the receiver has great power to bestow this blessing on the giver, don't they?

Which I why I don't personally fear old age, or infirmity... I plan to keep on giving whatever my role comes to be - whether it's the one who get's to help or the one who gives others the opportunity to be a blessing and help me... Anyway, what I'm trying to say is, when all this is done respectfully and with trust given and received, we all win, don't we? The helpers and receivers - we're all givers in the end, aren't we?