My hands were full going into the library today.
I was steering my older son with one hand, and a small, umbrella stroller with the other, which was loaded down on each handle by a full diaper bag and a heavy bag of books needing returned (not to mention my younger son in the seat). On top of the stroller, I balanced a box of old books, games, and DVDs needing to be donated to the ongoing library sale.
"Need a hand?" A stranger's heavily-accented, Irish voice startled me as I waded toward the door with my pile of boys and stuff.
I turned around to find a sturdy woman with short grey hair and gentle eyes, offering her help.
Despite my obvious need, I almost refused.
While I stumbled to conjure up a polite and graceful decline and straighten myself into looking competent and in control under pressure, my mind hearkened back to another recent errand incident that made me change my mind:
My whole family was headed to the grocery store a few weeks ago to buy milk. We brought four empty glass milk bottles along with us to be redeemed for cash for recycling them. My husband took my older son to get a cart. Meanwhile, instead of waiting for him to come back, I decided to take my younger son and all the jugs and head into the store.
After all, I'm a strong, independent woman, right? I easily can handle one toddler and a few milk bottles, can't I?
Well, it wasn't long before an elderly couple saw me with my hands full.
"Do you need some help?" The wife asked me.
"No, no, I got it. I'm okay, thanks," I replied, a comment which of course was immediately followed by my son suddenly kicking and squirming and twisting out of my arms. As I reached down to scoop him back up with my free hand, another, young couple, comes along.
"Do you need some help?" The husband asks, looking concerned.
"No, no, it's okay. I got it. Thanks. My husband is right over there," I unconvincingly replied, glancing desperately in my husband's direction as I squatted on the asphalt, trying to pick up my son and my bottles and regain my balance.
Well, then a jug broke. And I cut my hand on it as I picked up the pieces.
Upon hearing the sound of shattering glass, the other couple, who had started to walk away, rushed back over too.
Now I'm really humiliated.
"Are you sure you don't need any help?" the old lady asked again. "No, no," I protested. Please don't help me, just let me just disappear into the asphalt, I thought.
"Oh hogwash," she said, before taking my bottles from me and heading in the direction of the shopping carts and my husband. "I'm helping."
No matter how dicey or arduous a task, there is proud streak in me that always wants to do it myself, thank you very much, and even sort of thrives on these mundane yet precarious challenges. (This may be the same spirit that compels some of us to carry ALL of our groceries into the house in one trip, just to prove that we can. "What? Eight bags? That's only four per arm..." You know!)
And so, today in the library parking lot, if for no other reason than simply to spare myself another scene, I decided to go along with it.
"Sure," I replied to observant Irish woman. "Thank you."
"No problem," she replied, taking my box. "You looked delicately balanced with the bags and the box and the wee ones."
Yes, I was-- I am-- delicately balanced, much of the time, as are many of us, I suspect, in different ways.
Though it is usually more comfortable for me to play Proud Mary than Damsel in Distress, I'm realizing that, more often than I'd like to recognize, help can really help. And allowing someone to help gives them the chance to do something good, too.
As she slipped my box into the donation bin, I thanked my anonymous helper again.
"It's my good deed for the day," she smiled at me before leaving the library.
Random acts of kindness are so underrated!
Even just one "daily good deed" can make a difference. Doing little things for others--even strangers--has the power to make us more helpful, more compassionate, more human. Not everyone asks for help. This is why paying attention matters.
May we have eyes open to the needs of others, hands willing to serve, and hearts ready to receive kindness as well as give it.