I belong to a group of college alums, the second-oldest member of which is a career educator I’ll call Rose, who still lives independently, together with her two cocker spaniels, in the house where she was born in the late 1920s.
Two weeks ago, when the person in our group who is closet to Rose reached out to say that she had fallen in her kitchen the day before and been taken unconscious to the hospital, I drove directly there.
She and Rose’s nephew had been in the ER with her for hours as they waited for a bed, but by the time I arrived she was settled in a pleasant room, her long hair, customarily worn in a 50’s-style ponytail, falling loose about her shoulders.
I don’t know exactly why I felt I had to drive there at 10 in the morning. I knew she would likely still be in the dazed state you get with a head injury.
Maybe I thought it would help her to see the face of another friend, for we are fast friends, Rose and I are.
“How are you?” I burst out, practically running toward the hospital bed.
“I‘m well,” she said mildly, and reached up to touch the bandage covering a ragged arc of coarse black stitches. “The staff here is very fine,” she added.
“Does it hurt?”
“No,” she said with that same mildness. “And they don’t think they‘ll do forgery.”
She hesitated, sensing that wasn’t quite right.
“Perjury,” she then tried.
“You mean surgery?” I asked, and she nodded, laughing at her mistake.
I guess I thought I was also helping the next time I went to the hospital and found her having a very quiet day indeed, with a magazine article open before her, single phrases of which she was reading aloud, in a slow and ruminative fashion.
I took both of these so-called ‘helping’ actions almost automatically. I just woke every day that week wondering “How can I help?” a variation of which, I suddenly realized, was the same question I wake asking myself every day.
So apparently I am one of the people who prefer to think of themselves always as the helpers and never as the ones in need of help.
Then came another realization.
It was on the second day I came home from the hospital and found myself so unaccountably frazzled I couldn’t get my eyes to focus on the pileup of emails in my Inbox.
This I was sadly regarding when a name popped up in the corner of my screen.
It was a Facebook ‘Friend Request’ with a warm message from a person named Susan whom I could not place.
I accepted the request and messaged back, “Do we know each other, Susan?”
We certainly did, as she quickly pointed out; for not only had she had me for English back in in high school, but she had also gone on to become a nurse and ‘re-met’ me in a very different setting. As she wrote, I took care of you in Room 314, in the Brigham and Women’s Hospital when you gave birth to your daughter.”
I remembered that all right. If there was ever a day I needed help it was the day my first child was born, and Susan provided it, along with steadfast care and attention.
Thus do I sense some connection today, and feel lucky and grateful for any help sent my way in past or future, even as I feel lucky and grateful to have been one who sometimes offered help.