Wednesday, July 14, 2010

That’s a Lovely Dress You’re Wearing, Miss Scarlett

I have a hard time accepting help.

No, I mean, I really, really have a hard time accepting help. 

Like Scarlett O’Hara, I’ll flounce grandly about in drapery dresses before letting anybody guess I need help.

All my life I’ve helped people. Maybe it’s in my DNA—a personality trait inherited from altruistic forebears. Once, I took a personality assessment and was nearly off the charts for helping others. It isn’t just what I do; it’s who I am.

My family was a strong influence. My grandfather worked multiple jobs during the Depression to support five families. My grandmother visited the sick and cooked for others even as she was dying of cancer. My parents are also givers and helpers.

Until I started living on the dole, I didn’t think much about my volunteerism or donations. I did for others because helping makes me happy.

Now, I’m on the dole. There’s not much to share. I can’t give money because I have none. In short, my charitable usefulness is diminished. Instead, I find myself—to my horror—on the receiving end of help—a peculiar situation indeed.

And, I still do not, repeat, do not, like it.

In recent weeks you’ve read my parents’ take on my situation. Here’s mine:

My “Super” Dad was always the first to look over broken stuff at my house, but in the old days when I had money, if it required more than a simple fix, I would tell him I would call the plumber, carpenter, electrician or other repairman. Mostly, he advised and I’d take it from there.

Yet, last December, it troubled me to watch my 68-year old father with bum knees and arthritic hips down on the cold garage floor trying to repair my dryer—for days. I wanted to say, “Don’t bother with it. I’ll call the repairman.” Instead, I bit back my words and let him work while I cooked him dinner. It wasn’t much, but it was all I could offer.

Since my late twenties, my parents and I have gone to dinner “Dutch treat.” However, now that I’m on the dole, they insist on paying. At first, we’d squabble about the bill;  I told them I could still pay my way if we went out only occasionally.

More than once, Mom said, “Stop being silly. We want to see you, and we’re perfectly capable of paying. You can take us out when you get a job.”

Each time I accepted their generosity I was uncomfortable. Still, I reasoned  I would have a new job soon; my freeloader status was only temporary.

But, the thing about parents is how wily they are. To avoid the who’s-paying hassle, Mom mostly suggests a restaurant farther away. She knows I’ll drive us in my fuel-efficient car, and I won’t make a fuss about the bill if I drive.

“We’ll get this,” she says as she grabs the check. “It makes up for the gas.”

I’ve figured out that trick. Now when we eat out, I don’t argue because I understand it’s important to them to do this. It makes them feel as if they’re doing something useful. Yet, I can’t help who I am; Mom told me yesterday that I still wince as though I’m about to be hit every time the server asks if it will separate bills or all on one.

And my parents aren’t the only ones accommodating my circumstances. When my college roommate (last week’s guest blogger), told me not to buy her eight-year-old son a Christmas present, I felt awful. Still, I appreciated her understanding . She’s been a supportive friend during my joblessness.

The list of those who have given to me goes on and on. Here are a few examples:

Mom’s longtime friend suggested that Mom and I join her and her daughter for a home-cooked lunch at her house.

A friend about to be married asked if, to avoid the expense of a bridesmaid gown, I’d prefer keeping the guest book. (I did.)

Another friend suggested dinner with a “buy-one-get-one-free” coupon. Then she grabbed the check, telling me she was the “buy one” and I was the “free one”.

A CPA friend bought my lunch—saying I could reciprocate when I found work—and put me in touch with other contacts I could call to try to network some contract work.

A business contact became a friend as she encouraged me, took me to networking events, offered free use of her copier and office space, and in general, made my job search easier.

I’m blessed with people who care. But, I’m still me, and I can’t shake that tendency to minimize my challenges by saying with a smile: “Well, it’s tough, but I’ll get through it.”

Maybe I really do suffer from Scarlett O’Hara Syndrome—the affliction that causes strong women to sew drapes into dresses just to appear to be keeping it all together in tough circumstances. Even if our bellies are filled with shriveled radishes, we maintain the illusion that all is well and thanks-so-much-but-I-don’t-need-any-help.

I’m not sure if I will ever be 100 percent comfortable receiving help. Hugs, encouragement and emotional support are easiest to accept. Work, money and restaurant meals are another matter. But I am learning. I really am.

I keep telling myself others need to help—just as I needed to help back when I had money.

When I won’t accept help, am I withholding myself from them?

Is it selfish to be unwilling to be emotionally vulnerable enough to accept help?

Is it arrogant?

Am I depriving them of the opportunity to feel good about themselves?

Is it just another way of saying, “I’m awesome. Let me be the strong one. Let me be your benefactor, but you can never be mine”? 

I’m learning it’s important to receive the love, understanding, support and help that  friends and family want to share. It makes me human. And, maybe that’s the hardest part of all.

Still, in the end, even tough Miss Scarlett knew where to go for help: “What is there to do? What is there that matters? . . . Home. I'll go home.”

And, even if it’s hard to accept help, home is what I want, too. Home is not a geographical place—it’s my family and friends. It’s their love. It’s where I keep everything that matters most to me.

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Just for Fun: Check Out Miss Scarlett’s Drapery Dress in Gone With the Wind:

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And For Even More Fun: Check Out Carol Burnett in “Went with the Wind, Part 2”:
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And, a Bit More Fun:

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Photos courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) (public domain)


Elaine said...

Thank you for the reminder that sometimes we need help and we should accept it. I've always been the one to help others and still find anyone helping me hard to swallow.

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