On my way to the office earlier this week I drove by G, a guy I’ve known for more than a decade. He flies a sign (a.k.a. panhandles) at an exit ramp where he’s been a regular fixture for years. He drinks a lot, smokes a lot, and doesn’t do much to take care of himself. In a far corner of a parking lot near my office, I saw T sleeping among his belongings, strewn in a chaotic manner filling the entire parking spot surrounding him.
I have offered both of these men help, and so have other outreach workers over the years. Other than occasionally accepting food or a gift card, both have refused assistance. I’ve watched both of them deteriorate over time and I’m genuinely concerned that they are going to have a health emergency soon. The idea that either of these men might die alone breaks my heart.
Those of us who are natural helpers run the risk of being overwhelmed by our own nature, especially when our helping spirit is built into our work. I have to remind myself from time to time that I can’t help everyone, and I definitely cannot help the people who choose not to accept it. Both of the men I wrote about today have the choice to say no. They have the right to refuse my help, and I have to honor their autonomy.
Maybe you’re overwhelmed by a sense of powerlessness in your relationship with someone else – intimate or otherwise. Maybe you’re overwhelmed by the enormity of the needs you see around you and your desire to do more. You’re not alone. As I write this, I’m heartsick over not being able to convince these two men to accept help. I’m sad about someone I know who is currently in the throes of a relapse. I’m sad about someone I mentor who has been sick with COVID-19 and its aftereffects for more than a month.
Take a deep breath, then take another one. Then remember that practicing kindness (like I wrote about yesterday) needs to begin with yourself. You’re not Superman. It’s not your job to save the world.
Never forget that I love you, and that excludes no one.