WORDS: Help by David Whyte

The Solace, Nourishment, and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words

Help by David Whyte

From Consolations


is strangely, something we want to do without, as if the very idea disturbs and blurs the boundaries of our individual endeavors, as if we cannot face how much we need in order to go on.  We are born with an absolute necessity for help, grow well only with a continuous succession of extended hands, and as adults depend upon others for our further successes and possibilities in life even as competent individuals.  Even the most solitary writer needs a reader, the most Machiavellian mobster a trusted lieutenant, the most independent candidate, a voter.

Not only does the need for help never leave us alone; we must apprentice ourselves to its different necessary forms, at each particular threshold of our lives.  At every stage we are dependent on our ability to ask for specific forms of help at very specific times and in very specific ways.  Even at the end, the dignity of our going depends on others’ willingness to help us die well; the sincerity of their help often commensurate to the help we extended to them in our own life.  Every transformation has at its heart the need to ask for the right kind of generosity.

An impending birth certainly means we look for aid: a place for it to occur, midwives, a doctor, a husband or partner to be present, a nest in which to welcome the child, a job to support a new life.  And the one who is born needs endless help, food from the breast, walking and carrying at night, changes, washes, clothes, and a great deal of doing and clucking.

The parents of those who need help need another kind of help themselves: their very own parents, parents of other children, playmates for the child, sometimes copious amounts of red wine and never-ending amounts of sleep.  They also need a new perspective, a new imagination for the next stage of their relationship.  Romance is temporarily in abeyance, logistics loom over all; hands are full, but the relationship itself needs a helping hand.

This overwhelming need for help never really changes in a human life from the first day we are brought from the womb calling lustily for that commodity.  We need extraordinary physical help to get through our first years, continued help through our childhood and extraordinary emotional help and good luck to get through our adolescence.  After that the need for continual help becomes more subtle, hidden as it is by the illusion that we are suddenly free agents able to survive on our own, the one corner of the universe able to supply its own answers.

It may be that the ability to know the necessity for help; to know how to look for that help and then most importantly, how to ask for it, is one of the primary transformative dynamics that allows us to emancipate ourselves into each new epoch of our lives.  Without the understanding that we need a particular form of aid at every crucial threshold in our lives and without the robust vulnerability in asking for that help we cannot pass through the door that bars us from the next dispensation of our lives: we cannot birth ourselves.  To ask for help and to ask for the right kind of help and to feel that it is no less than our due as a live human being; to feel, in effect, that we deserve it, may be the engine of transformation itself.  Our greatest vulnerability is the very door through which we must pass in order to open the next horizon of our lives.  In the end comes also our beginning, the ancient sense of a door opening to some final unknown, some invisible voice attempting to help us come to terms with our own disappearance, the hand extended to help us over a horizon equally as mysterious as the one we crossed at our birth.

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