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Can I Help You?

Updated: Jul 30, 2021


I was born and raised in Oklahoma, where you help people, whether you know them or not.


It was so engrained in my DNA that in second grade, during a timed math test, I started blatantly telling my friend the answers when I saw she wasn’t going to finish in time.


My teacher called me into the hallway and politely started a life-long lesson in learning about boundaries. She likely addressed cheating as well.


Fast forward to a year or two after I moved to NYC, and I was in the grocery store checkout line. The man in front of me was removing his grocery items from his cart one at a time, using only one hand.


I was well-versed in how quickly grocery clerks like to move people along, often scanning the next person’s groceries while my receipt is still printing.


Here was a man who needed help. He was moving at a snail’s pace, not a New York City pace.


I picked up two items from his cart, using both of my hands, and handed them in his direction.


He looked at me with what I could only describe as disgust and said, “Are you in a hurry?” in a way that communicated, “How dare you! You evil, vile excuse for a human being!”


With the wind knocked out of my confidence, tears burning in my eyes, and a shame-filled lump in my throat, I mumbled something conveying “no” and released his groceries.


And then I painstakingly stood there, vibrating with emotions, trying not to show my embarrassment … while he continued loading the conveyer belt with his groceries … one item at a time.


It was a long time after that before I allowed myself to offer to help someone else, no matter the circumstances. I received the clear, soul-crushing message that no one in New York needs help from anyone.


But is that true?


I’m still learning boundaries. When I see someone who needs help, do I help? Or just leave them to suffer?


What would you do?

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6 Comments


Great story. Thank you for this. I help as many as I can. Subway performers, selling things on the street. I always think of it as an exchange. As for helping people unprovoked, I have to release the outcome and that is hard. I still get burned but other times people have been grateful. I think there's an honesty about it. In ND, where I am from, people are nice but a very surface. If they knew the real me, would they be as generous? I don't know.

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Jill Anthony
Jill Anthony
Mar 03, 2021
Replying to

Job, you hit a huge nail on the head for me!!! You said, "I have to release the outcome" (and you acknowledged that it is hard!!).


This is a huge key for me. If I get really honest, I want every response to my offerings of help to be thankfulness on the minor scale and total adoration in the expanded experience of the world! I imagine this is why it hurt my feelings so much when the man at the grocery store "shamed" me. I felt shame, at least in part, because the only response I expected (without self-awareness) was thankfulness. So when I was met with resistance and a harsh tone, it cut me to the core.


This is…


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kathleenswhitehead
kathleenswhitehead
Mar 03, 2021

I love the story about "helping" your classmate in 2nd grade - so cute & funny. It sounds like your teacher didn't shame you the way the New Yorker in the grocery line did. I've also had difficulty knowing where to place the boundaries when helping others. COVID has given me a window to pull back and be more aware of unhealthy motivations that drive me along with healthy ones.

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Jill Anthony
Jill Anthony
Mar 03, 2021
Replying to

This is so interesting ... the effect of COVID on helping. Judah and I were sitting on a park bench last fall. There was an elderly couple on a bench nearby. The man shifted, knocking over his water bottle, and it rolled toward us. I reached down to pick it up, and the man's wife started yelling, with a sense of alarm, "No, it's okay, it's okay, it's okay!" to keep me from touching the bottle.


I've experience both the sadness of feeling like I have to stay in my own lane, not interacting with the humans around me, as well as the very acute awareness when someone does extend a "hand" to assist me in some way. I feel…

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