Saturday, December 6, 2014

Paying It Forward

For most of my adult life, there have been people around to catch me when I fell. I wouldn’t be where I am now without their help. Some I’ve lost touch with and others are still here, but my heart is filled with gratitude for each one. Even though I may never be able to repay them all, their names remain fixed in my mind like words permanently etched on a stone tablet – they will never be forgotten.

Pride and Gratitude have a hard time getting along in my head; they don’t play well together. I hate asking for help and I get into more trouble because of that, waiting until the last possible moment when desperation is my driving force. It’s a lesson I think I learned from my mother and one I’m afraid that I’ve passed down to my son. The last thing I want is to be a burden to anyone and I certainly don’t want to be thought of as a deadbeat or a mooch. I want to be independent and self-sufficient. I don’t want help even when I need it. While I am certainly grateful for help when I get it, I do resent being in a situation that forces me to ask for it.

My mother never asked anyone for help and never relied on anyone else to do anything for her. She was a stubborn woman. If she didn’t know how to do something, she learned about it so that she could do it herself. She was the ultimate DIY guru, the epitome of self-reliance, and I always admired that about her. She was my role model.

However, what I admired most about my mother was also what I most disliked. Her autonomy isolated her family from the rest of the world and I hated that. Her independence seemed like her way of maintaining control over her family.

As an adult, I now understand why she had such a deep-seated need for control. She was a young teenager during the height of World War II and her family had everything taken away by the Russians. They were forced into work camps where conditions were harsh and food was scarce. My mother’s life was turned upside down and she probably felt little control over anything, which naturally influenced how she compensated for that later. Our pantry was always filled with food and our family never lacked any of the basic necessities. If she had ever asked for help, I didn't know about it.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with asking for help. It’s not a sign of weakness. It doesn’t mean you’re stupid, incompetent, needy, or lazy. For most of us, we’re not working an angle or trying to get something for nothing. Erase those social stigmas from your mind; they are wrong. It’s also wrong to make assumptions about people, especially when we don’t know what circumstances they’re facing now or which ones have shaped their lives. Everyone asks for help for different reasons.

Humans are social creatures. We thrive in community. No one can do everything for themselves and we must all rely on the village at some point. Our culture consists of specialized cogs that work together to form a single machine. If one of the cogs needs oil, it squeals. If it didn’t squeal, no one would think to give it oil. Without oil, it would eventually break and the whole machine wouldn’t function.

We may not be able to see the whole picture or how our seemingly insignificant parts fit into it, but what we do and who we are does indeed affect everyone around us in some way or another. To be our best, sometimes we must rely on the help of others. Sometimes simply to be, we need the help of others.

In order to have what you want and need, you have to ask for it. This is the first rule of manifesting your desires. If you don’t ask, you won’t receive. If you do ask and you do receive, the next step is to show your gratitude. For example, by paying your electric bill, you show gratitude for having a warm home in the winter and power for all your gadgets.

For one reason or another, I haven’t always been able to repay the people who have helped me. If I’ve lost touch with them, I try to help others – I pay it forward. One day, I’ll dust off that stone tablet and find the people listed on it. My wish is to be able to mark all those accounts, “Paid in full.” Until then, they will continue to receive my heartfelt gratitude.

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