Helplessness is such a frustrating stance. When I am not in a position to actively help or to be a part of a solution, I feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and dread.
In the movie version of my life, I would be quite the selfless help warrior. I would acquire a boat and head to the floodplains. I would drive into the canyon and shuttle people away from the wildfire. I would take in a family of refugees. I would adopt an army of foster kids. I would care for an entire farm of rescue dogs. I would sail out to the garbage island in the Pacific Ocean and clean up every last piece. I would chain myself to vulnerable trees. I would guard endangered animals. I would protest without fear. I would join the Coast Guard. I would join the American Red Cross. I would join the Peace Corps. I would find a way to help the homeless one person at a time. I would donate to every charity. I would I would heal the sick and ease the pain. I would defend the innocent. I would listen. I would counsel. I would forgive. I would encourage the discouraged.
I would not just follow the news and go about my day as if nothing affects me directly or personally.
This week someone was desperate for help and I was not in a position to give it to her. I had to turn her away and hang up the phone. It haunts me. I keep thinking about her. I feel terrible that there was nothing I could do. Had I taken her in, I would have lost my job.
Even now that I hear reports people are able to return to their homes, I think about this woman. I think about how she begged me for help and my response was null.
My job isn't precious to me, but my ability to care for myself is. That is my first responsibility. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Had I helped her, it would only have been temporary. Her animals would likely have been evicted. That or she would have racked up a bill she couldn't possibly afford to pay. At least that's what I keep telling myself.
I'll tell you what I can do. And this is something I can do every day of my life. This is something I can do that will actually help. It's quite subtle, but I find it really does make a difference. It's also incredibly easy.
"How are you?" Ask this question. Listen to the answer. And if this question is asked of you, ask it in return.
There are people in my life that have no trouble remembering because it's the normal, habitual way that they interact with other people. They stop and ask "How are you?" everywhere they go. They ask the bank teller. The grocer. The cashier. The barista. The Uber driver. The mechanic. The waiter. The flight attendant. Co-workers. Friends. Family.
Sometimes I get so caught up in my own s*** that I fail to notice the people surrounding me. I miss a lot of opportunities to reach out and extend a courteous inquiry. It takes a concentrated effort for me to put interest in someone else ahead of my own pressing agenda.
When someone asks "How are you?" it often throws me off guard. I think "Whoa, I'm dealing with a human being here. This person is an individual. This person has taken the time to check in with me. How refreshing." Does it inspire me to ask someone else unprompted? No. But it should.
The worst part of it is, I forget to ask this question of those closest to me. I get so caught up in the chaos of everyday life that I blow right past my fiancé at the end of a long day to get to the unwashed dishes. I pick up the phone to ask my mom or dad for help with something and time and time again, I fail to ask them about what's going on in their lives. When I spend time with friends, I waste so much time venting about work that I gather very little knowledge about what they're dealing with.
It's not until someone approaches me and inquires about how I am... that's when I realize I should take interest in someone other than myself.
If I stopped to recognize everyone one person at a time, I would be that selfless help warrior on the inside. So why don't I just do it already?