What’s that sound? Is’t the alarum-bells? A cry for aid? Say what, you texted me??? Sorry, wrong number!If you came here looking for heroism, you are decidedly on the wrong front porch, knocking on the wrong-est door ever. For saintliness, try someplace down the block or around the globe. Any superhero cape I’ve ever owned was made for Halloween out of an old bedsheet (and the accompanying tights are, ahem, waaaay too tight now), and my halo’s batteries ran out when I was about four seconds old and discovered how to scream. Not out of rottenness, mind you, just out of excessive sheer humanity. If there is such thing as having feet of clay, why then I’m a virtual Swamp Thing. Believe me, I’m not proud of this; I’m certainly not bragging about such lowliness. Just stating the facts.
What I see in my mirror is a craven coward and a self-centered dilettante, one who delights in not taking responsibility for others’ well being and who has not the skills, the innate gifts, nor the desire to be a caregiver. Even when those whom I adore most are ill or suffering, I have such tiny reserves of kindness and such a short attention span that even the people who know me are likely to be surprised to be reminded of the depth of my depravity in this regard. I come from a good and kindly stock of nurses and teachers and home caregivers and pastoral and community leaders, and all sorts of people who have taught me by their shining examples how to show compassion and patience, and yet it didn’t really ‘take’.But if I’m truly forthright, I must also say that I am very reluctant to change. There is a part of me that does participate in the festival of guilt that is so liberally sprinkled over much of humankind, those who have even the most modest codes of ethics or morals or simple consideration for the existence of others. But I do not enjoy the company of that humble and self-effacing part of me, not at all. I stare at it until I feel sufficiently gloomy to assure myself I’ve not yet lost all contact with my fellow beings–and then I hasten to hide from it as quickly as I can. My better self reviles the mean Me that, while it worries about the well-being of my family who are so very far away, especially when as now, they are dealing with genuinely traumatic things like Mom’s surgeries and recovery, is still not-so-secretly relieved that there is no easy way for me to be called upon from 2000 miles away to be physically present in a sickroom or assist with things-medical and daily caregiving tasks that intimidate and frankly, discomfit me. I am squeamish. I’m impatient. I’m afraid of all things I don’t understand and incredibly resistant to being called upon to attempt to understand them, let alone perform any helpful deeds based upon them. I am desperately fearful of seeing anyone I even like, let alone love, in pain or unhappy.
Sometimes I can suck it up and pretend to be better than I am. I embrace as best I can the skills and tricks that have been taught me over the years to overcome many of my lifelong social fears and inhibitions. Even the remove of a telephone call is sufficient to get some people through at least the emotional demands of others’ needs, but since I’ve told you I have a sizable and lifelong phobia and dread of telephones (yet another inexplicable, and not very helpful, character trait), that’s not a really big boost for me. In writing, I can pull off the disguise of a better person very slightly more convincingly.
This all leaves me with the rather bitter knowledge that I am no better than I absolutely have to be to get by in any situation. I have to direct you elsewhere if you come looking for an example of How to Do Things when it comes to generosity, selflessness or compassion in action. It’s all hard, hard work that, if anyone is genuinely predisposed or programmed to do it, failed to take root in my DNA, and has to be forced on me. Here I am, smudged face and all, and as dependent as a baby on the goodness of others to make the world a better place. Can I get around my own resistance to open-handedness and gracefulness enough to be a decent person? Only the rest of my life will tell. I’m an optimist, so I hope that I’ll turn out better in the long run. I’ll keep you posted. Meantime, if you’re looking for a Rock you can depend upon, I must send you elsewhere–but if you want to join with this paltry grain of sand to build a beachhead, I’ll gladly welcome the inspiration and the good company. As you can see, I can really use the reinforcements.