I admire the mechanical, culinary and gardening abilities of others. I gush over what some people can create and repair with their hands. Envious? Definitely. I don’t do anything with my hands except type, and I’m only able to do that if and when characters and stories appear in my head. I also move my hands when I talk. Mediterranean and excitable, my hands flash here and there with every word that comes out of my mouth.
The lack of practical skills on my part is inherited (read not my fault). My father would be the first to tell you (likely because my mother drilled it into him) that he is not what you would call a handy man (duck tape and lots of it being his solution for most everything). My mother, on the other hand was a wonderful cook and gardener, but I always had my nose stuck in a book and didn’t take advantage of her wisdom when I had a chance (read definitely my fault). So I struck out both ways.
The quandary for me is that I actually do like to fix things. And by things, I mean, organizing events, furniture, paint colour, outings, dinners, table settings, guest seating, menus and unfortunately for some, people’s lives.
If I’m honest with myself, I mostly like doing the latter, fixing lives. Trying to, anyway. This need to mend or help comes from an overwhelming desire to take away another person’s suffering. I hate to see the desolation of hurt in someone’s eyes. I have, in my distant past, been attracted to people who needed professional help. I thought then (and still catch myself thinking this now) that if I could just offer friendship, maybe it would make the person feel better, maybe I could make their life better and they’d be okay. Life would be reset for them. And sometimes it worked. But often times it didn’t. If a person needs professional help, they should get professional help.
My motivations may also come from my need to control, although I very much doubt that (please excuse my feeble attempt at humour).
I’m particularly bad with my family, but I also try to help friends, colleagues, clients and strangers on the street. Yes, I have advice for everyone. I’m an equal opportunity meddler. I’m reminded as I write this of Charlie Brown’s Lucy. She’d set up her stand on a street corner as though she was about to sell lemonade and instead give Charlie and his friends advice about life. Lucy was no nonsense and kind of pushy. I’m a bit pushy myself.
The thing is, I’m starting to realize that when I provide this kind of support, I’m sending a message that I don’t think my friend or family member can figure things out on their own. I’m diminishing what they think of themselves rather than strengthening who they are. I have wrestled with this for a long time. It’s easy and straightforward when you’re helping a client, and much more tenuous and murky when you’re trying to help your son, for example, or your sister. I understand that. All I can say is I’m working on finding a good balance. It isn’t easy.
A psychologist friend of mine says that everyone has a life’s path; people make choices and need to take responsibility for their actions (this is likely a poor summary of what we’ve spoken about in the past, but you get the picture). I totally agree with her except for some reason I also feel a need to make that road easier. I think about the actor, Corey Monteith. Would he still be alive today if someone had been with him to stop him the night he overdosed?
I think of other people who have dealt with other serious personal problems and survived. Mostly they did so because of their own strength. I get that. But perhaps they also had someone in their corner cheering for them, supporting them. A champion. A friend. A meddler. Someone.
I had a client once, back in my prison days, who asked me to believe his version of events without verification or question. I looked into those dark eyes and unshaven face, and I felt a need to believe him. This was a stretch on my part as he was already a convicted felon. But I had to do it.
He wrote me years later to tell me how life changed for him that day. In his letter he mentioned how he remembered standing in my office, hands behind his back, praying I’d believe him. He thanked me for giving him a chance. It made all the difference in his life. His words, not mine.
When I think about him, I see the narrow margin between success and failure. I understand at my core the difference between having someone in your life (believing in you) and having no one.
And there in a nutshell is why I interfere, why I think I can help. Even when my guidance hasn’t been taken, I think I can make a difference. I know this is going to sound cliché, but if I can only help one person, that person is worth my effort. Aren’t we all worth someone’s effort?
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