Can I Help You?

Aside from the forty five or so subscribers to this blog, there have been close to 7,500 hits on it from other people since it began, about sixteen months ago.  Astonishingly to me, although maybe not to younger people who get – and live – all this social media stuff, is that I have no idea who all those hits came from.  I know they came from people in twenty four different countries – and that alone blows me away – so there are at least twenty four people reading it, aside from the subscribers.  I’m sure some large group of them must be people who come back and then get counted again.  And, I do know that a good number of them come through the link that is posted on the web site of my agency,  Beyond all that, unless they post comments,  I have no idea who the readers are or why they come.  As one who constantly tells people that I can neither speak nor write publicly unless I know who my audience is, I find all this discombobulating.

And there is more. In just the first six months – and I know I have slowed down since then – the blog’s word count was over 22,000. To my mind, that is a heck of a lot of writing – far beyond anything I’d ever dreamed of doing here.  The consequence of that – beyond the memory issues of an old guy – is that I cannot possibly remember all that I have written – or even most of it. And the consequence of that is that either I figure out some way of tracking what I say and being able to search it prior to writing (which can’t be done at the blog site); or I say the heck with it, go with what I want to write, and if I repeat myself – or at least repeat myself too often – accept that people are going to stop reading the blog.  Is there a natural life span to a blog?  I guess we’ll find out. In the meantime, let me repeat myself….maybe:

What brought this all up today is that I have been thinking recently about what it means to help somebody.  Years, actually decades, ago – and I suspect this is a story already posted in the blog – I came upon a cartoon in the paper, that remains for me the best one I have ever read.  I carried it in my wallet for years and it became more and more frayed as the years went by and now I can’t even find it. I searched the internet for it also, but it’s nowhere to be found.

A man and a woman walk into a used car lot.  A salesman comes over to greet them and asks, “Can I help you?” And the husband replies, “No, thank you. We’d rather be treated decently.”  I nearly fell out of my seat when I first read it:  helping someone was seen as the opposite of being treated decently?  I cut it out and carried it because I knew there was a profound – if exaggerated – truth there.

Some time after that I learned of a priest who ran a Christmas giveaway in poor neighborhoods in the city. He would bring food – turkeys, canned hams, etc – and gifts and distribute them to very poor people in their homes.  I thought that was terrific.  Seeing to it that kids had something to open on Christmas day and that their parents had holiday food to cook.  And delivering it, yet? How more personal could it be?

But one day, another man of the cloth, whom I respected very much, told me how terrible this was, what this priest was doing.  Terrible?  How could this incredible annual and personal act of generosity and kindness be terrible?  And when I questioned him, he told me that it stole people’s dignity. I was blown away by that. Because as soon as he said it, I knew it was true. What, I asked him, would be the alternative? Should we ignore the need? I questioned him, but I had seen he was right.

He said that what he did in his small circle, was to collect presents and lay them out in a big room of some kind.  And then he invited individual families in to go “Christmas shopping” for their kids.  To this day, I am blown away by that simple act of respect. He let the parents preserve their dignity in front of their kids, and themselves, by giving  them the opportunity to go out shopping for their kids as all other parents did at Christmas.

What he did was to see to it that the family’s material need was not used against them.  He removed power – his – from the equation.  He treated these parents as his equals, despite their poverty. He treated them with respect.  The world knew what the priest was doing; but no one knew what this man was doing.

It was a lesson that I’ve never forgotten; and one that has served me well all my life: help is not measured by the needs, wishes, desires, feelings, ideas, or beliefs of the helper.

Help is measured by the one who receives it.  And so no one ever says to an offer of real help, “no, thank you, we’d rather be treated decently.”

I recognized immediately the second guy’s gift to these folks:

It was help.  It was being treated decently. It was beautiful.

Real help always is.


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2 Responses to Can I Help You?

  1. Dorothy Hannigan says:

    I understand where you are coming from and this priests prospective is one of respect. My mother-in-law was a single mother of 2 children -raising them in the Mid 1950’s to 1980’s. They were poor and my husband always tells how he found out he was poor. He said in the 3rd or 4 th grade one of the Nuns asked what was one thing you enjoyed about Christmas. My husband innocently said “when those Salvation Army people come by singing and bringing gifts. I enjoy it a lot , who else thinks it’s great”. The class busted out laughing and someone remarked ” They only come to your house stupid cause your poor.” To this day everytime he see’s a Salvation Army worker at Christmas he retells that story, Respect and Diginity are so important.

  2. That’s you Jack; a true help, going around preserving the dignity of other human beings. And I wouldn’t worry about repeating myself; yours is a message that bears repeating. We’ll see you soon, hope your enjoying your summer. Don’t forget your sunscreen!

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