Help: Is It a Four-Letter Word?
I don’t need help. That’s what I had always assumed. Then two years ago, I traveled to France on my own. I arrived in Paris at the Charles de Gaulle Airport and needed to find the train station to Bordeaux. I hauled two suitcases, a backpack and bike case by myself, too proud (and linguistically challenged) to ask for help.
Finally, after an hour of navigating through the airport and making several wrong turns, I arrived at the train station with 20 minutes to spare. People pushed by me, stepping around my baggage. No one would lend a hand until middle-aged Indian woman dressed in a colorful sari saw my predicament and started to assist me. Her efforts shamed a young Indian man, maybe her son, to drop his cigarette and help me lift my luggage and stow it.
This experience paralleled my life as a single parent. For so many years, it had been just me carting the heavy load, using my wits and perseverance to make it though. There had been no choice but to carry on. Spurning help had become a habit.
After a four-and-a-half hour train ride, I arrived in Bordeaux. Leaving the depot became my first challenge, which required me to go beneath the tracks using a ramp. On the other side, up again, but there was no ramp—only an escalator. I made two trips.
“Excusez-moi,” I said loudly as I attempted to avoid ramming my suitcases into people. No one in the dense crowd offered help, and I expected none. Once outside, I sighed with relief. My hotel lie only a few blocks away. I started walking toward it on a narrow sidewalk made of crumbled bricks. My wheels stalled, and my suitcases toppled over every few steps.
I wanted to stop, sit down on the bricks, and cry. I stumbled forward anyway. A man passing me on the sidewalk saw my predicament. He didn’t speak English, but he gestured that he would take my bike case.
Strange—it never occurred to me to ask for help. A single, independent woman shouldn’t have to rely on anyone. I could do it on my own. Truthfully, I was grateful for some help. I was relieved as the man followed behind with my bike case and rolled it into the hotel lobby.
Why had I insisted on doing everything on my own anyway? Was it a misguided sense of pride? A need to prove myself as self-sufficient? Spurning help had become a habit. I had become accustomed to suffering through my struggles rather than appearing weak. I could mow my own lawn, shovel my own snow, and raise my daughter by myself. That first day in France, I discovered that people were there for me—and probably had been all along back home. I just needed to extend myself and ask for help. I vowed to remember this lesson throughout my sojourn in France—and in life.