Privilege Blog

The Art Of Helping, Or, Saturday Morning at 9:33am

Night Bloomer II by Lily Stockman

Last night the Gallery had an opening. Among other artists, they featured Lily Stockman. Those are her flowers, above.

I would have loved to have attended. I own one of her paintings, Her Favorite Time Of Day, and I love it. But as it turned out, I have been struggling with fatigue, and couldn’t get myself out of the house last night. Why fatigue? The easy, fun answer is jet lag from the UK. The harder reason is that after I returned from overseas, I set off alone to Santa Barbara to see my mother.

Mom’s losing her memory. I drove there. Stayed 4 nights and then drove back, this time with Mom in the car. She stayed with my aunt for several days, and that same beloved aunt has now driven Mom back home, where my stepfather awaits.

Not my story to tell, all that, the details, but the resultant exhaustion has been nothing to scoff at.

So I couldn’t make it to the art exhibit. I felt bad, because I should have supported Lily, and like I’d missed something that would have fed my spirit, if I’d only had enough spirit to get out.

I also wanted to say that recently some of my younger friends have thanked me for my help, and I’ve been surprised. Two of them told me I’d mattered in the early days of their new babies, that somehow my presence or my words had made a difference.  You know how it is, when you are simply telling your true story, and it feels confessional, and heartening, to say it all, and then absolutely unpredictably it turns out to be helpful to someone else?

And then there was the thank you that put me in a magazine. A teeny me. If you read Redbook, open the September edition and look for the section where magazine staffers recognize their friends for style. Lauren Oster, the Senior Research Editor, included this photo, as a thumbnail, and thanked me for teaching her that being fabulous is a process. I am still surprised. That someone as brilliant as Lauren, and as creative, for she is both to the nth degree, felt I had anything to teach her.

Because I’ve never been teaching her, only relating.

So I suppose I wanted to say today, help someone. Even though you can’t always know when you’re helping. I have been the most useful when I am both truthful and focused on the person to whom I’m talking. And in those times when I have done that simple hard thing, like a long drive, physical or emotional. That which just needed doing.

Listen, tell the truth, amuse someone with stories of your own failings. Bring food, make the spreadsheet, drive.

But then you’re also going to have to make peace with the times when you can’t help. You’re not going to make it to the art opening, you won’t make dessert from scratch. You’ll get used up. So then you have to prioritize. Only one thing can come first. It was right that my daughter and my mother tired me out, albeit disappointing for paintings.

It’s just so hard to know. So hard to know when to push yourself and when to surrender, when to say yes and when to say no, when your reward will be your own pleasure and when it will be the also real and more flinty joy of doing something for another. How in all this we become and remain good people, I don’t know, but I am absolutely sure that we should all keep trying.

Have a wonderful weekend. See some art for me. Or for yourself. Or someone else.

46 Responses

  1. This touched my heart! One, because I’ve got dear friends that have set up meals for my family for next week when I’m recuperating from back surgery, and they mean SO much to me. And two, my husband and I have taken in our 16-yr old daughter’s best friend after her mom kicked her out of her house. I love her dearly and intend to treat her as my own. There’s always enough love to go around!

    1. Glad that you have people helping, and that you’re helping in return. It feels better to accept help once you’ve given it, I find.

  2. I caught the notice in Redbook! Gorgeous ‘n wonderful.

    Food for thought, this post. Most of my friends think me a biatch!!; but the one’s who love me know me to be a helper a supporter a hugger. I check-in and I follow-up… and I’m there when you need me. I knew you were a superior being… like me ;-)))

    Lily Stockman’s line paintings are wonderful. “Measure Twice” and “Ultraviolet” and “Stack of Tomatoes” are beautiful. Should I go with a set of six Elad Lassry works?? or save thousands and invest in a row of Lily’s??


    1. You know I have to vote for Lily. Her stuff is OK one at a time too:). But Lassry looks fascinating, more confrontative, more conceptual, so you have to go with what you want in your house! And I’m tickled that you saw the notice!

  3. read as my newest g’daughter wriggles on my chest, her mother sent off to a beach chair with a book, her dad paddling to town with Granddad….helping can be so satisfying, even as it fatigues, as you point out so well.
    tough stuff with your mom, though. Having trod that ground myself, I hope you also find some help for yourself. Take care.

    1. Yes, I followed your writings about your mom very carefully, as the signs have been coming for a long time. <3

  4. What beautiful paintings. I’m so sorry about your mother’s situation, must be so draining. And I had lunch with someone yesterday who told me how much you’d helped and encouraged her. You get around, in a good way. :-)

  5. I so understand this type of fatigue. After a Christmas holiday spent caring for my parents, both with dementia, I developed a series of cold sores followed by shingles, my immune system overwhelmed by stress. Now my dense family history of Alzheimers disease informs many of my life decisions. If you ever need a place to vent, you know how to find me.

    1. @Ellen, I am puzzling over, now, just what is so stressful. And I agree, the trajectory of our parents does start to inform all kinds of life choices. Thank you for your support.

  6. Excellent post! I can relate, my grandmother & father-in-law having had Alzheimer’s. Don’t feel guilty when you need time for yourself–self-care for family members/caregivers is so necessary. And I’ve recently retired too; it takes a while to figure out how to balance our lives–I’ve been amazed how busy I can get, so I need to remember to take time to re-charge.

    1. One thing I’ve been thinking is that you only really understand how busy everyone is, how maxed out, once you retire and become the spare resource and see all the gaps there are that need filling.

  7. Lovely post. I always read but rarely comment, something I should rectify.
    I’ve been following HONY, and I want to say that the way those posts humanise
    us all invokes the same kind of sentiments as your posts.
    Thank you

    1. Thank you. I’ve now started following Humans of New York, as you’re the second person to point out that I might like his work. Please don’t feel you have to comment, but I am very, very happy that you did.

  8. Your giving is deeply felt and needed.(We are similarly busy with my inlaws.) Time with those we love is limited. And rest restores us, to be attuned to exactly how we can give at each encounter.

  9. I saw some art for you! I popped into our local museum/art gallery and saw some pliosaurs (cos it’s a museum)and a modern exhibition and said hello to some pre-Raphaelites.

    And I know what you mean about the stress of dealing with family. I find after a couple days visit, I’m antsy as all get out.

    I hope you have a good rest.

  10. Great post, Lisa. I am wishing you much strength in the coming days, as you manage your mum’s (well, whole family’s) emerging situation.

  11. I am sorry to hear about your mom, and glad your spirits were uplifted by the recognition of your help to others. Beautiful post.

  12. I am sorry to hear about your mom’s failing health as I know how draining it is first hand with my own Mother. She will appreciate your kind gestures just as others have expressed their gratitude for your help.
    You are wise to take rest when you are tired….you cannot help others when you are fatigued. Rest up and rejuvenate.
    That painting of flowers by Lily is beautiful.
    Take care

  13. You are one of the kindest, most generous and most incredibly helpful people I have ever been lucky enough to meet, and one of the single most important sources of help in getting through early parenthood. I’m so sorry about your mom and that you are worn out with all of the helping, you look after yourself for a while, okay?

    1. @Cara, I’m trying to take care of myself, and am getting a little help from friends. I am honored to have been there, and useful, when you were in the throes of young motherhood.

  14. This was one of those posts for me, Lisa. You touched on so many things so close to my heart. I am brought into the lives of many people like your mother through my work and to hear your perspective as a daughter, loved one and carer humbles me. So much is done to help my patients outside of what we do in hospital and through formal services.

    As for helping and being helped. I have been humbled by the helping hands so many of my friends have extended to me over the various trials and challenges of my life so far. In turn, I have found extending a helping hand, email or gift to help others often helps me as much as the person I’m trying to help.

    SSG xxx

  15. “Flinty joy.” I enjoyed reading that expression in your poignant entry. It spoke to the Puritan soul in me. Try to remember to let others help you, too. It’s good for them, too.

    1. @Amy, That’s a good way to look at it, that we help others when we allow them to help us. Is a Puritan soul similar to Yeat’s Pilgrim soul?

  16. I’m sorry about your Mom Lisa. Please take good care of yourself too as you care for those you love.

  17. Dear Lisa, You have always been there for me. You agreed to meet with this stranger before I even started my blog. Just as you’ve been there for us you are now being there for your loved ones. You will never regret giving what you can of yourself to your mom at this time. Thanks for being there for all of us. We all appreciate your time, energy, patience and talent. We also appreciate the fact that sometimes we all need to simply ly down and gather our energies.

    My heart goes out to you and your famiy. Tough stuff.

  18. Beautiful, Lisa. Thank you. Yours is the blog I MUST read every day. Love and encouragement to you and your family.

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