Lonely independence

Why do I find it so difficult to ask for help?

The question comes up because, for a month, I was forbidden to drive. Apparently anyone who has had heart surgery may not drive for one month, in case of reaction or relapse.

If I’d had a stroke, or a seizure, the suspension would last longer, six months or more. So I got off lightly.

But it irritated me, not being able to leap into a car whenever I felt the need to go somewhere. Most often, Joan had to drive me. Which meant coordinating my needs with hers. She had other commitments. She wasn’t always available. And she didn’t always feel well enough to drive.

At such times, I had to call on friends. I hate imposing on people. It’s not that they object to helping. Rather, I object to depending on them.

Perhaps that’s the crux. I don’t like feeling dependent. To be dependent is to be helpless. To be unable to look after myself.

Somehow, I have absorbed the message that the highest human virtue is to be ruggedly independent. Real men, it seems, not only don’t eat quiche, they know how to use a chainsaw or an arc welder; they do their own oil changes and rewire basements; they drive.

And of course they never need to ask for directions. Why did the Hebrew slaves spend 40 years in the wilderness? Because Moses refused to ask for directions.

I now understand why some seniors’ organizations ban discussion of drivers’ licences from the final hour of any meeting. Losing one’s licence symbolizes one’s loss of autonomy. It’s a flash point that inevitably triggers heated discussions – and grievances – that will prolong the meeting well past its scheduled closing.

But where did that notion of independence come from? Is it the frontier mentality of Wild West novels and movies? Is it a hangover from the teenage urge to differentiate from one’s parents? Is it primarily a male obsession?

I don’t think it came from my church or my religious faith. If anything, they taught me to value community.

An oft-told sermon illustration says that a fire burns hot while its embers are gathered together. Remove any single ember from that fire, and that ember soon grows cold and lifeless.

The same applies to human interaction. I have been known to argue that a truly isolated individual can never be fully human. Our relationships make us who we are.

Sometimes I think of relationships as a kind of invisible web of energy, linking us together.

Yoga teaches that the human body has seven chakras that emanate energy. If there’s any truth to that teaching, I wonder if that energy reaches out to connect us to other people — sometimes as tentative tendrils, easily brushed off; sometimes as great pulsing arteries.

We are all dependent on each other. Independence is a delusion.

My head understands that. My heart yearns to connect. Yet I seem unable to shake off my dependence on independence.

Why do I find it so difficult to depend on others?

 

 

 

Jim Taylor is an Okanagan Centre author of 17 books and several thousand magazine and newspaper articles. He welcomes comments; rewrite@shaw.ca.

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