In my forties, I have learnt to look for the helpers. Being aware of their existence occasionally makes life bearable. Sometimes, I hope I fulfil the role. But how can we assess whether we have successfully helped someone? Can it be ascertained in a smile or a thank you or is it a more profound feeling that grows through reflection?
There have been numerous events in my past where I have learnt that sometimes the act of support is not required or else seems to be at the wrong time. Depending upon how fatalistic I feel, it can make me believe in a natural order or some kind of divine or cosmic intervention in the world we inhabit. I remember one incident which highlighted that help is not always wanted. The beetle I once removed from the side of the pond despite its texture, which was surprisingly hard yet also pliable, I guess like tectonic plates. I probably deceive myself as the movement was simply the wild gesticulations of legs as the beetle experienced an unusual flight onto the grass away from the water of the pond. Ironically, it returned to the same position in the pond over time, so in many respects, I had hindered its journey. Its possibly suicidal mission was delayed by my 'altruistic kindness'.
On several other occasions, I have also experienced where helping people is not always respected or wanted. Working in retail at one point in my career, I initially used to ask everyone who came into the shop after about five minutes of browsing whether they needed my help e.g. 'is there anything that you are looking for' or 'how can I help you?' I watched my inflection as most repeated statements run the risk of being misinterpreted as glib or patronising, just as 'have a nice day' can be taken as almost a gesture of war if the recipient of the statement is experiencing a bad mood.
For me, I like to see the small gestures of kindness. The extra sweet given to a child who has thanked the shop assistant on possibly their first time up to the counter with money. I also admire people who offer me suggestions, so if I go to a cafe and ask 'what do you recommend?' I love to hear their choices and sometimes if I am very lucky, I get to hear why the carrot cake is important to them.
Of course, some helpers have to perform their benevolent acts all of the time. There is probably nothing more tiring than the work of doctors, nurses and also too widely forgotten, the relatives of seriously ill people, who as home carers have to dedicate twenty four hours to the sustenance and cleanliness of their loved ones. How do you help people the whole time when sometimes they resist the routines and gestures that will provide comfort. Who cares for the carers?
I hope that sometimes I help people even when I feel lost and occasionally a single smile can illuminate a path that was previously hidden. We can choose to help or we can choose to hinder. Take your pick, both choices will change you.
Barry Watt - 29th November 2015.