I'M STILL CARRYING THE PIZZA
By Saralee Perel
Last week at the supermarket, a young gal named Tara who was bagging my groceries said, "Can I help take these to your car?"
As always, for the eight years since my spinal cord injury I said, "No thanks." But that particular day, I was in trouble. I had overdone exercise the day before. Hence, I couldn't lift my feet to walk and had to shuffle instead. Tara could tell I was hurting. "Let me just help," she said sweetly.
When I finally said, "I'd love your help," I should have felt a great sense of liberation because it was the very first time I had agreed to someone helping me in all of these years. Instead, I felt like a failure.
On our way to my truck, Tara and I became friends. But at my truck, 19-year-old Tara became my teacher.
When I eventually agreed to her suggestion to sit in the front seat while she loaded the groceries, I put my head in my hands and cried. "I feel like a two hundred year old helpless wreck. I hate that someone's putting my groceries in the truck."
She stood by the open door where I was sitting. "I know you could have done this yourself," she said. "But it was so much easier to let me do it." And then she said a life-altering sentence, "Getting help should never make you feel bad. It should always make you feel good."
I will never forget her words.
She tentatively moved her arms to hug me. When we hugged, it was one of the most meaningful hugs of my life.
At home, I plunked myself down on my favorite "plunking" spot. It's in front of the fireplace where I hang out on large pillows. My husband, Bob, came in and plunked next to me. When I told him about the groceries, he tenderly brushed away my tears with his fingers.
"Sweetheart," he said. "Why is it so hard for you to ask for help?"
"Probably denial about my physical state."
"I think it's two other things," he said. "One – asking for help makes you feel inferior and two – you think you're bothering somebody. And three – "
"You said 'two.'"
"I just thought of a third."
"I'd so love to hear it." I covered his face with a pillow.
He took the pillow away and said, "If you do that again, I'll – "
So I did it again.
He managed to say, "Is this subject a tiny bit touchy?"
"I can handle it," I lied.
"The third is that asking for help reminds you of all the things you have a hard time doing or can no longer do at all."
This time I covered my own face with the pillow and said, "I hate this!"
"I know." And with that, he helped me to a standing position. That's something he's done hundreds of times. Yet I have felt guilty every single one of those times . . . until now.
It was because of Tara that I changed. I told Bob my new conclusions: "By asking for help, does that make me inferior? Of course not. Am I bothering someone? Who knows? But if I am, whose problem is that? Will asking for help remind me of the things I can't do? Heck, yes." Bob knew my crusade was successful because of a pizza.
When he opened the pizza box I brought home the next day, he was astonished and said, "It's round! You asked for help!"
You see, before I met Tara, I'd never let anyone carry a take-out pizza to my truck. Instead, using my cane with my right arm, I'd awkwardly carry the pizza box with my left, resulting in the box constantly tilting one way and then the other. By the time I'd get home, that round pizza would be a smushed pile of cheesy red gunk in the corner of the box.
Bob and I plunked down in front of the fireplace and ate.
"How did it feel to accept help?" he said.
"Well, my new way of thinking helped. But the part about reminding me of things I can't do? Like carry my own pizza? That didn't feel good."
He took cheese off my chin and ate it. (We eat like monkeys.) "Sweetheart, you may never get used to the things you can't do. But it's better to be aware of that, than to hide under the pretense of 'I don't need help.'"
And so, I have learned the following:
1. It does not diminish me to ask for help.
2. A 19-year-old gal was more influential than the shrink I saw for two years.
3. A round pizza doesn't taste nearly as good as a pizza all smushed up into a luscious gooey pile of cheesy doughy gunk in the corner of the box.
Award-winning columnist/novelist, Saralee Perel, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org via her website: www.saraleeperel.com
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Copyright 2011 Saralee Perel. Permission is granted to send this to others, with attribution, but not for commercial purposes.