A long time ago, as a new mother, I was on a train juggling an equally new baby and ringsling. The baby was asleep on the breast and my arm was dropping off so I was juggling one handed into my ringsling. Clearly I was looking inept and an older woman stood up with a smile and said, "How can I help?"
"How can I help?" Not, "Do you need help?" which leads to a yes or no, or what we call a closed question. She asked me an open question, open in every way from mind to eyes to heart and it was exactly what I needed to hear as well. Since then I've seen the power of this question over and over, benefited from it, offered it humbly, seen other women take it up and use it to support their sisterfriends and total strangers equally well.
Look around your neighbourhood, your world, your community, your family, your friends. Who's struggling? Have you asked them how you can help? Sometimes we don't because we fear expectations, or reciprocity will be too hard. Sometimes we don't because we fear we can't help or that our experiences of life haven't fitted us up to offer help to those in need. Actually the mere fact of your humanity fits you up right now because you have empathy.
And you know what? There are countless folk you know who are struggling in some way. You might be struggling too. Are you? Then this is for you as well because the other question we need is, "Can you help?" We can find that we also fear to ask for help, let alone off it. We fear because we have been taught that it's making a nuisance of ourselves, that others have it harder, that our struggles are unimportant and we're just substandard because we're not coping with our lot.
Some of us have been raised with the myth that love and support are scarce and that sharing what you have leads to even greater scarcity. I have not found this to be true and I think if you go into this with an open heart, you will not find it to be true either. What does make it hard is that too many of us struggle with the idea of giving and receiving but instead of facing that fear, we shut down and neither offer help nor ask for it.
Did you know, that when you offer help to someone you might change their life? In that brief moment you may be the one point in a day, a week or a month, which has offered love to someone. Did you know, that when you ask for help, and receive it, you are changing the life of the giver and offering them the honour of supporting you? You are giving someone the opportunity to give of themselves, with love, and for people who struggle to give of the love they hold within, that is also an immense gift.
Sometimes though this plan of asking, receiving, sending love around and around, simply grinds to a halt because people are inward looking without self reflection or outward looking without true care of others. We can fall into the trap of guilt which serves no one and just ties us in giant knots of our own making. That guilt you feel when you see a woman you know could use your help, and you face away because you fear her judgement or witnessing the pain you've caused her? If it stays as guilt, it serves no more purpose than a bookmark in an unread book. It marks a spot you could return to, and start the story anew though. Think to yourself, what is the worst that can happen if I offer that woman my humble apology and restate a commitment, however brief, to be present and help her past this rocky time? If your open heart reaches out to her, you may find she is just relieved to have you present. If she refuses your help because your withdrawal caused her pain, then that's something you'll have to live with and I hope you will learn from it. But offering an apology and help cannot be wrong if you genuinely regret the pain you caused.
And if you have denied others the opportunity to help you because you hold within you the fear of being unworthy, or you fear not being able to help them on back, you should know that it is never too late to ask. And sometimes the help we give others doesn't come and go like tipping water from one hand to the other. If you do that, you will actually dminish that load of watery support and end up with dry hands and a thirst. If you are all cupping the water of life and sharing among you, there is almost always enough and no one goes dry. You can offer help knowing that your energy may go back into helping someone other than yourself. You can accept help without feeling you must offer back in kind but can offer to whomever needs that love and help at the time.
If we spread that love and that support throughout a community, a family, a nation or even a globe, we can never run dry. There is no big accounting book somewhere totting up how many points of virtue you displayed, there is no magical timekeeper who will stand up and point to you if you don't share the support. But there is an emotional even keel, a place of health, from which we can all delve and into which we can all dip, as needed and I wish we could share it.