Somewhere along the line I got enrolled in a mailing list called “Dress Your Truth”. The gist of it seems to be the promotion of some type of synergy between our essential natures and the fabric with which we cover our nakedness and adorn ourselves to face the world. I watched a few of the videos but saw nothing that didn’t sound just like the “seasons of colors” popular in the late 1980s, and similar fashion marketing movements.
But the idea of dressing my truth appeals to me. I struggle to find that balance between fulfilling my needs and offending people. If someone volunteers to do something and does it badly, do I speak or silently fix the mess? The person who clutches my arm and tries to drag me over the curb grimaces if I work myself out of the grip which rocks me off what passes for my balance. My explanations sound feeble. I’ve danced this number so many times over the years. Here, let me. No, really, it’s easier if I — No, no, it’s okay, let me.
Then I struggle to keep on my feet while the good Samaritan drags me at a faster pace than my synapses can fire or my muscles can regroup. I grit my teeth and tell myself, It’s just a few steps, don’t say anything and whatever you do, don’t you DARE fall.
Or: I shake off the hand which really isn’t helping, and try to redirect the person to something that might actually benefit me and ease the task of ambulation. Here, take my handbag. I guide the offered arm to a position at which I can actually avail myself of its strength. But offense still settles on the person’s face more often than not. I see it, then I hear it:
I was just trying to help!
If it doesn’t help, is it help? And if it doesn’t help, should you let the attempt proceed until you manage to get safely to the other side of the highway despite that help?
It’s not just walking which affords a chance for this tense encounter, but the quandary confronting me in that setting illustrates the problem. People step forward with all kinds of offers — discounts, cheaper rates, carry groceries, come by to do chores. My ambivalence stems from experiences in the past where I’ve spent more time and money dealing with the aftermath of failed appearances, misguided methods, and the inevitable resentment when the task at hand proves more difficult than the price bid. Let me help you, I have a friend who will do that for half-price, translates to, They’ll bid it cheap for me and then do a shoddy job.
If it doesn’t help, is it help? Is it only the thought that counts? Is outcome irrelevant?
And what about my longing to try to take care of myself? What if I just want help when I want help and not when I don’t want help? Am I allowed to set limits? Or can I only accept blindly, regardless of my fears as to the dubious result? If it doesn’t help, is it help? Kapish?
At Pigeon Point last month, I walked to the Point with two Park volunteers, husband and wife. Ken and Gayle. We went to see the whales. Gayle said, Let me know if I can do anything to make it easier for you. I stopped beside her and smiled. I will, I replied. And you do the same. Then we continued down the steps and stood beside her grinning husband, taking the binoculars, joining the other tourists at the wondrous running of the humpbacks. She took no offense at my decision to pick across the boards as capably as I could without clinging to her arm. As for myself, I relaxed a bit, knowing that she walked beside me, ready to hold her body out for my lily white spastic hand to grab, should I stumble.
As the spray kissed our faces in the early morning air off the coast of the Pacific, I murmured a few lines of Sara Teasdale. What was that? Gayle asked. I tried to find all of the words. Failing, I started scrolling on the browser of my phone, despite the weak signal. When I finally found the poem, I asked, Shall I read it? Gayle signaled that she’d like that, motioning her husband over so he could hear. Then I read the lovely, lilting verses which Sara Teasdale wrote about the world after we exit from it.
When I had finished, the three of us stood there, not speaking, as the tourists scrambled to the rail. The truth of my life gelled in that moment, stripped of all pretense, standing at the edge of everything. Finally the laughter of a small child broke the silence. We shook ourselves, smiled at one another, and parted, I returned to the kitchen at the Dolphin house, wrapped in the intoxication of my own truth, which somehow came to me in the fragile moment between Gayle’s offer of help and my declination.
It’s the third day of the forty-sixth month of My Year Without Complaining. Life continues.