Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
He is six. He is the spitting image of his paternal uncle as a child. I suspect he regularly experiences nuclear explosions in his blood for the amount of energy he gives off. The boy bounces, runs, climbs, and speaks at an excessively high volume. Everything he does is done intensely. He feels everything. He expresses everything.
So when he asks for something, it is not enough to merely ask. He must plea. Calls and requests come pouring out of his little mouth and little lips with a cry and a whine. It is as if he thinks, believes with all his heart, the thing he longs for will never come because we said, “wait.”
When he asks, he either has already begun to believe it will not happen or he demands with complete assurance his need will be met. If I have forgotten his request because I am elbow-deep in unpacking another large U-haul moving box, he does not suspect it will be forgotten forever. He is convinced.
A good friend grew to trust me and rely on me in college. His car battery died in Modesto near the junior college. I was at home, twenty minutes away. When he called and asked for help, I inquired, “did you ask anyone walking by if they have jumper cables?” The thought had not occurred to him. You see, growing up, for him, there was no one to ask for help. He learned to rely on himself. Every man for himself, they taught him.
Ask my father a question. If he does not know the answer, his first inclination is not to “Google” it, as mine would be. He will begin to generate a list of friends he knows who might know the answer. He grew up in a world of community, of neighbors, of solidarity.
Some days it feels like that world is slipping away from us. Who can I ask for help? Friends live far away. Schedules are full. Families are small. Weekdays are filled with children. Weekends are filled with family times…or sports…or trips.
One generation raised another with the individualistic belief: I should do it myself. It I cannot, I should hire someone who can. We used to ask friends to help us move thinking they would reciprocate and we could one day help them. They never asked. They did it themselves. Or they hired movers.
What do we expect when we ask for help. Are we convinced the answer will be no? “He is probably too busy…she’s got too much on her plate…”
What lies beneath those excuses we put into the mouths and hearts of others? Do we believe people would help us if they could? Do we believe we are worth helping?
We reached out during this move; we asked for help. A church in our community responded with more generosity than we ever could have imagined. It was a church we do not even belong to. We did nothing to earn it. We cannot repay it. Yet they gave freely.
Because we asked.
Acts of kindness are not meant to be random, my professor said. They are deliberately done for those in need, whether we know them or not. It is right to give more to those we love, with whom we have a relationship.
Relationships begin in the smallest, most intimate circles: a spouse, a family, one’s closest friends. Then the circles grow to include a neighborhood, a church community, a civic organization, a town. When they grow so large, we know little about those in the circle, but they are still ours. They still have value. We are still bonded in the relationships of community.
I want my son to see that although the world is not the same as it was generations ago, relationships still matter. He can ask for help. There will be an answer.