Getting by with a Little Help from our Friends

My column for The Elgin Review 5.24.2020

“Each of us is just one tragedy away from needing to rely on the goodness of others to get by.”

I was raised on good conservative values of hard work and self-sufficiency. I was a good student, I worked hard, I waited to marry until I had my college degree, I completed two more degrees, I waited to have children until I’d been married several years so we could provide for the kids, I lived within my means, I put money into savings, I drove carefully, I abided by the law, I voted, I saw the dentist twice a year, brushed my teeth twice a day and flossed (more often than not). Yet there I was in my therapist’s office wrestling with the truth that, for the sake of my sons, and myself, I had no choice but divorce. “I can’t possibly divorce.” I said. “I can’t earn enough money on my own to pay all the bills and he isn’t earning enough to rent a place of his own and then pay child-support on top. I can’t work full-time and take care of the boys. I live far from my family. I just can’t. I can’t stay married but I can’t divorce, either.”

That’s when my therapist said my sense of self-sufficiency was really only an illusion. We all need each other to get by. Maybe if we’re Bill Gates or Warren Buffett we’re not one tragedy away from needing the goodness of others to survive, but since most of us aren’t either of those two gentlemen, the truth is, despite all our hard work and good planning, life sometimes throws curve balls that leave us unable to do it all ourselves. That’s part of being human.

This past week I helped a friend who suffered a cascade of calamities. A job didn’t work out in a town she moved to just to take the job. Without the job she couldn’t afford her house. In the middle of looking for work she suffered a serious health problem—without health insurance, because that had been tied to her job. The health condition means she can’t drive the car she has a lease on that she can’t pay for because she no longer has a job, and she can’t get a job right now because of the health condition and so on. She found herself needing a ride to her home state to apply for housing assistance and to see if she can figure out a way to get on her feet closer to home.

She reached out to me out of the blue. I hadn’t heard about her cascading calamities. Why did I drive as far as I drove, wearing an N-95 mask for hours on end (because she couldn’t survive COVID-19 on top of everything else) to help a friend I hadn’t heard from for over a year? Because she needed help. Just like I needed help years ago when I had no choice but to divorce my husband and raise our boys on my own. Except, I didn’t raise them on my own. I raised them in a community with great neighbors and great friends and a congregation and my brother and a whole host of others who helped us. Helping each other is part of being human, too.

During these difficult COVID-19 days, let’s all look for ways to help our neighbors. And, when we need it, let’s not be afraid to reach out for some help for ourselves. Chances are, anyone you ask for help has needed help themselves, too.

**

Park Church is still worshipping via Zoom. You are welcome to join us for worship at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. Contact me for the connection information at beckyzmcneil@gmail.com or 402.540.5615

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