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Who Is Really Helpless?



Once, when I was six, I got lost. My parents, my brother, and I were walking slowly down a street full of small stores, in a foreign country, window shopping. I paid too much attention to one window, and when I looked up, my family were gone. I assumed that they had gone on ahead, so I hurried off down the street. I looked in all the stores as I went, but couldn't find them. Each time, I moved faster, still feeling like I was being left behind. Eventually, I started crying, and someone stopped me long enough for my Dad to find me. My family had turned into the shop I had originally been looking into, and assumed that I had seen them do so.

This story is definitely one of my "Defining Moments", as Dr. Phil puts it. What I learned, at the time, was not to trust my initiative or my thinking. Paradoxically, this led to an increase in my thinking, trying to foresee all eventualities, and thereby to empower myself. But it also led to perfectionism, because no one really wins out against uncertainty.

I have dealt with this memory a fair amount, gradually altering my reaction to it. I've come most of the way to being able to forgive myself for the sin of having been a child. It's not reasonable to expect that a six year old would have the skills to deal with getting lost, or the maturity to get found on his own.

It still bothers me, though, and a friend of mine hit on the exact question I needed to find out why: she asked what I, as an adult, would say to that child to comfort him. The only thing I could think of was to tell him that it wasn't his fault, basically what I said in the last paragraph. But that isn't what mattered to the child, at the time. It wasn't guilt over having made a mistake; it was the belief that he might have died, because of it. And the problem is, there's some truth to that: no matter what steps we take, at some point, we are helpless and afraid. We do die, and there's no preventing it.

My friend's suggestion was to try to stand with myself, in that fear, and the problem is, I'm afraid of it, too; it's my fear. All sorts of things, that I've developed since I was six, would need to be given up: my desire to control my environment, my intense, almost obsessive, thinking about the future, my rigidity and rules and imaginary safety nets.

The truth is, we have no power against certain things. That doesn't have to be a fearful thought, however. Or rather, being reality, the fear of that thought is just something we have to live with. We do what we can, but pretending we can make ourselves "safe" is delusional. The question is, what can we do to make ourselves as alive as possible, right now? That's the only instant in time over which we have any control at all.


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Heh, you're fine; my rules guy, mentioned above, might be a little triggered, but he'll get over it by quoting the American Heritage Dictionary as cited at freedictionary.com, under "collective noun". It says that Americans often use a singular verb for collectives like 'family', when the collective is regarded as a unit, and plural verbs when talking about the individuals. But British usage is more likely to use a plural verb. So I can blame it on the parents, like I do everything else. :-)

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