Posts Tagged ‘dignity’

If you had asked my parents which of their children required the least amount of help for most of our lives, until recently the answer would have been me.  I held down a job from the time I was 12, went to a state school, had what looked like from the outside a successful marriage, lived in the big house on the cul-de-sac and gave birth to two healthy children.  Who could have known that when my life as I knew it blew up four and a half years ago that I would so completely make up for lost time?

It took a special kind of strength to allow myself to be weak and often my parents had to persuade me to let them help. Inventing a clever spin on how the charity was received so that I could find a way to live with it.  I imagined that things would get better when I moved in with the man that I loved, we would share expenses and emotional baggage, and fall asleep together every night knowing we were partners in life.  I was going to pick up some extra classes to teach and hopefully be able to work more hours now that I would not be the only adult at home.  Through it all I held on tight to my positive attitude, reminding myself that the freedom to find joy peace and love was worth the financial struggle.  I loved my job, my children were incredible and I was dating a wonderful guy.  Everything else would fall into place.

I was prepared for the road to get easier because thats what happens when you pull yourself up by your bootstraps, right?  Good Karma will come to those who do good, isn’t that what we are told?  So how was I to explain this past year to myself? My relationship ended the day after we looked at a house together, my ex-husband did not pay his share of my son’s first year of college tuition or any of the related costs, and one of my classes was canceled costing me roughly five grand. Despite working as many as five jobs at a time and trying to rethink everything I spent money on, I existed much of the last twelve months hanging on by my fingernails.  I mean this in a financial sense but also an emotional one.  I have struggled to find meaning in all of it, what could possibly be the upside of such a stripping down of dignity?

The simple answer is the gift of grace.  Who would have known that a willingness to put aside your last drop of pride in order to take care of your children would bring with it a special type of nobility.  When you get to the end of your rope and your strength has been pushed to its limit, you have no choice but to let go and trust the universe to catch you.  There is a strange freedom in knowing you have no options and that the price of dignity is no longer something you can afford.  Its hard to ask for help, for some of us it is crippling.  When it is your only option you are forced to learn the art of receiving gracefully.  If you are wise than you choose to learn about being humble instead of letting it humiliate you.  You embrace the feeling of such complete fragility and store it away so that you can tap back into it when you find yourself in a position to help others.

Like all difficult times, there are important lessons to be learned.  If I can recognize them and internalize them then I can look back on this time in my life as one filled with personal growth rather than pain.  I am learning that it is far more difficult to ask for help than it is to give it.  I have had to ask a wide array of people for a whole spectrum of things, ranging from a shoulder to cry on, to major child care help, to a loan or in some cases a flat out donation.  The range of responses has helped me understand what kind of person I want to be.  Some people have a special gift for giving assistance without shifting the power relationship between you.  Some give but make you pay, not financially but emotionally.  One person told me I should feel bad for asking; it will take years to recover from the mark left by that comment.  There are those who have been unable to help but have so kindly and sincerely expressed a wish that they could.  I am as grateful to those folks as the ones who were able to step up.  I will strive to be there when I am asked for my help in the future, not just with actions, but with kindness and empathy.

I am learning that I am not invincible and that even those who work very hard and try to be good people can sometimes falter.  If I find myself once again in a place of comfort I will look upon those less fortunate and know deep in my soul that what separates me from them is the strength of my safety net and that there but for the grace of god go I.  I am not better or worse than anyone else trying to make their way in this world.  We should all realize this more fully.  Often we are so sure that the reason we are in a better situation than someone else is because we were smarter or worked harder.  The truth is those things matter but they are not always missing when someone is in crisis. It is possible that the person you are judging is working as hard as you but is also the victim of circumstances beyond their control.

My belief that kindness is the only thing that makes this life worth living has been reinforced.  There have been moments when I survived purely because my soul was healed by an act of pure kindness.  There is simply no overstating this truth as far as I am concerned.

I have learned that sometimes in order to truly be strong you must be brave enough and wise enough to be weak.  I have my wonderful parents to thank for that lesson.  In a recent moment of utter despair when I was doing everything I could to keep from asking my mom and dad for one more drop of help, they tag teamed me on the phone.  First my mother, with tears in her voice, explained to me how it would kill her to know that I needed something and didn’t think I could ask, no matter how many times I had asked already.  My dad followed up by wrestling the phone out of her hands and in a shaking voice asked me if I understood that we were a team. He told me that this is what we do, we help each other, we are a team and at the end of the day, we do what needs to be done to make sure that each and everyone of us is ok.  Sometimes it is one persons turn and then later it may be someone else’s, but whoever was falling would be helped up by the rest of us.  In order to be the best mom I can be, I needed to be weak, accept help from the team.  Letting my pride get in the way would have hurt them, and I would rather die then let that happen.

And so finally, I have learned to accept help, with grace, and the new kind of dignity that comes from putting it all on the table for the sake of those who look to you to care for them and keep them safe.  I have learned to express my gratitude and say thank you from deep within my heart and soul.  As I write this, the light at the end of the tunnel is beckoning me and my faith grows that I will come out stronger than ever, but in the meantime, thanks to all of those around me who have linked arms, creating the safety net that has cradled me in my moments of need.  Thank you.