Thursday, July 12, 2012

On the Price of Helping People

Dear Mackenzie,

Sometimes the most innocent beings teach us the most enduring lessons.

One night a week or so ago I was feeling quite sorry for myself. A particular person who I have helped a lot in his career over the years had an opportunity to help me with a certain piece of business and didn’t. In the end it wasn’t a big deal really, but I found out quite by accident and given my history with this person I felt slighted.

I started complaining to your mom about the injustice of the universe. I wondered out loud why I had ever helped him in the first place. What was the point? What was I thinking? Why help anyone?

You must know by now, Mackenzie, that your mom is much wiser and more centered than I am. Even worse, she usually sees right through my nonsense. As I continued to pout, she asked me why I had helped the person in the first place. Was it so that one day he could help me with something?  If so, she said, then business is what business is. I had made a calculated decision about a person or his willingness to help me and had simply been wrong. It happens. She gently suggested that I should quit complaining and move on.

I argued that wasn’t the case at all.  I said I had helped him because I had seen something in him that made me believe he had been worthy of my help. Your mom countered that if in fact that had been the case my satisfaction should come purely from the act of helping him, irrespective of whether he subsequently returned the favor. She gently suggested that I should quit complaining and move on.

I didn't like her analysis one bit, by which I mean it didn't serve my pouting mood. I explained that in our society, helping people was a complex mix of inter-dynamics that couldn't and shouldn't be so easily categorized. I suggested that the issue wasn't nearly that black and white. Or some such psychobabble.

But I was losing steam, and the argument, and I knew it.  So I retreated to my Google news to regroup. And there I read a humbling article about a nine-year old girl named Anaiah Rucker.

On the morning of February 4, 2011, Anaiah and her five-year old sister Camry left their house in Madison, Georgia to go to school. According to news reports, their mother watched from the porch of the family home as the girls started to cross the street to the school bus stop.

It was raining heavily and both girls had on their hoodies to try and stay a little bit dry. Probably because of that, neither girl noticed the truck that barreled towards them as they ran out onto the road. By the time Anaiah saw the truck it was too late. She realized that she and her little sister were about to be hit and that she had only an instant to jump backwards out of harm’s way.
Jumping out of harm’s way is exactly what most of us would have done. Certainly no one would have questioned a nine-year-old girl acting on the instinct of self-preservation. But Anaiah didn’t do that. Instead, she did just the opposite. As her mother watched in horror from the house, Anaiah jumped in front of her little sister and pulled Camry backwards to safety, absorbing the brunt of the impact herself.
Anaiah collapsed on the ground all but dead. She stopped breathing and her heart stopped. The school bus driver, who was approaching the stop as the terrible event unfolded, ran to her side and performed CPR until paramedics arrived on the scene and rushed her to the hospital. 
Anaiah fractured both legs, broke her neck, damaged her spleen and her kidney, and who knows what else. For ten desperate hours doctors worked to save Anaiah’s life. They amputated her leg, removed her kidney, reset her fractured neck and otherwise fought to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. Five surgeries and six weeks later, Anaiah came home from the hospital.
As you might imagine, my sweet daughter, the story made national news. Once she could talk again (apparently she could only communicate by blinking her eyes for the first month or so after the accident) the media barraged Anaiah with questions about her heroics.  What had gone through her mind in that moment? Why did she do what she did? On the Today Show, the courageous nine-year old answered simply that she had wanted to help her little sister. Her agenda was simple and pure.
Compared to Anaiah’s actions, I felt like a bit of an idiot for worrying about what someone “has done for me lately”. And as usual, your mom was probably right (don’t tell her I said that). Yet truth be told the question continues to gnaw at me.  What do we owe to those who help us along the way? I’m not sure.
In a perfect world the friend I helped would have directed the piece of business my way and there would have been balance in the universe. Okay, so he didn’t. But that doesn’t make him a villain either.
Maybe he simply didn’t think of me in that moment. Maybe he felt that directing that particular business elsewhere was more beneficial to him than directing it towards me.  Doesn’t he get to do that? I hate to admit it but I think he does.
I guess in the end you help people when you can and if at some point it comes back to you that’s gravy. And as the trucks of life come barreling towards you at warp speed, may the Anaiah’s of the world be at your side.
All my everlasting love,


  1. I enjoyed your story so much - thank you! I'm thinking about the man that didn't pay back to you your kindness to him and I wonder instead of paying you back, he found someone more in need and decided to pay it forward.

    I also think that he was the instrument that helped teach you and others a wonderful life lesson and for that gift I think you are now even.

    I absolutely love the last line of your piece, and I wish you the same.


  2. what a wonderful way to look at the world. Thank you for your kind words and thanks for reading! Norm

  3. I'm not sure if you know this, but ABC's EXTREME MAKEOVER: HOME EDITION built a house for Anaiah Rucker and her family. The episode originally aired in October 2011, but the link is in case you would like to watch.

    1. Yes, I did know Ali, but than you for sharing i. xoxo