What an awful feeling it is when we feel vulnerable. I am sure you remember a time where you felt this. I do.
Oddly enough I bare stronger feelings and recollections of when I saw people around me in a vulnerable situation and me being at the right place at the right time to be there to help them and to know that I made a difference. My soul has been nourished by these moments, what a great feeling.
Here are a few life experiences I wish to share with you; you know those moments that are so vivid in your head, as if you were there now, all of these memories are like that for me.
As a high school student in early December I stayed after school for a basketball practice. Living in a cold climate the sun sets early and the snow always falls sooner than we would like. Walking down the hall, I stopped dead in my tracks when I saw out of the corner of my eye the school secretary who was frozen in utter fear at the top of a sloped pathway that was covered in black ice. He had suffered from polio as a child, always walked with crutches and wore leg braces. Regardless of the crutches he was a fully autonomous man. He stood there at the top of a slight slope filled with fear….all he wanted to do was to get to get to his car that was a mere few steps away to go home. I was, every day, impressed by his will to live a regular life and deal with what had been dealt to him, facing challenges without complaints, friendly, smiley, and always professional.
Still now, at least 28 years later, I am overwhelmed with emotion to think back at how vulnerable this person was at that very moment. Was I sad or did I feel bad for this man? No. At that one particular moment at the top of that slight slope my heart went out to him as one step forward with no support could have very well changed his life. He did not see me come towards him though he did hear the door open. I asked how I could help. ‘I am so happy you are here as I am so afraid of falling. Could you help me get to my car?’ “Absolutely, that is why I am here. How shall we do this?”
He explained to me how his leg braces worked, what was the best way for me to offer physical support and to guide him to and into his car. Five minutes, ten minutes, whatever time it took has been erased from my memory but that moment of vulnerability for this man has been frozen in time for me to bring me to tears even today as I write this.
Oddly enough thinking back to other situations where I have seen or felt those same moments or feelings of total vulnerability are with men, this is a total coincidence. It just so happens that I was there at the time the event happened.
As a director of activities it was part of my job to drive a 24 passenger bus to go shopping (it was purple and fun to drive!), go to the casino and a variety of different outings. A gentleman, for whom I remember fondly when he and his wife walked together, is what Helping Seniors’ logo is based on—when they walked away from me they looked exactly like the couple in my logo! One day, returning from our regular shopping trip, he stepped off the bus only to have the strong wind blow his hat off (the one you see in the Helping Seniors logo). The hat kept going farther and farther away. That autonomous man, though a little slower and with reduced vision, stood there knowing that his beloved hat was gone with the wind as he could not run after it. The gratitude on his face for when I ran after the hat and brought it back to him was priceless. I was grateful to be there to help him.
There is another time that I remember where I am certainly not proud of my actions (or lack thereof) and wish I could go back to relive that moment and change my approach. A gentleman in his seventies, suffering from Parkinson’s, was in my car as I was accompanying him to go visit residences.
Why do I want to go back to that moment in time you ask? Because I did not ask him what he needed to be comfortable, I was too embarrassed. I felt bad for him. Those tears that came to my eyes for the 2 situations I described above come back to the surface now but these tears make me mad. I did not ask how I could help as I felt bad for this gentleman, and by not asking him, he ended up being in a very uncomfortable position.
Here is the situation: we drove for about half an hour, and slowly, slowly while in the car he started stooping down, down, down towards me and the stick shift. When we arrived at our destination his head was leaning against the stick shift. Too paralysed and embarrassed by my feelings I never asked once, nor pulled over, to ask him what could make him more comfortable. He must have been extremely uncomfortable, and also very tired. UGH! I do not forgive myself for my silence. The only thing I needed to do was ask a simple question: “how can I help to make you comfortable or what do you need?”
For the trip home, he mentioned that it would help if I could lean the seat back a little, that way his torso could rest while we drove. This little adjustment changed the whole trip back home for him, not only was he sitting comfortably, he could also look out to see where we were, which made everything more pleasant.
I could blame it on inexperience…though it is not true from life experiences I had lived before. I say shame on me for feeling bad for him, for being uncomfortable and not asking him what he needed. For me, there is no excusing that awful behaviour on my part.
Another time, in New York City, my family and I once did a “Blind Tour” of the city. For one hour, we were blind. We walked into a darkened room, where we heard noises of the city, bumped into different items found in the city like bikes, sidewalks, and benches. Our guide, whom was (is) blind, greeted and shared his experiences of living in NYC as a blind person. What a fabulous experience.
Near the end of the tour he asked if we had any questions. I asked him what his biggest challenge is being blind. He said: ‘Construction sites. You never know where the holes are, what equipment is lying around, how the site has evolved from the last time you were there, it is always noisy, so you never know what to expect.’ As a person with my vision I had never thought of that. Since that conversation I look at construction sites in a totally new light now.
The next time you see someone in a vulnerable situation don’t let your feelings of being uncomfortable, like I did with the gentlemen with Parkinson’s take over, ask them if and how you can help. At times, I have offered help only to be told to ‘buzz off I can do this myself’, which is perfectly fine.
For when you and I find ourselves in a vulnerable moment in life we will be glad when someone does not feel bad for us but asks us how they can help, then it will be up to us to accept or decline the offer.