Two weeks ago today I fell off the high step during my aerobics class. Distracted by other thoughts, I miscalculated the height of the step and came down hard on an inverted ankle. It wasn’t pretty. Within seconds my ankle ballooned to three times its normal size and I was immobilized.
While the aerobics instructor tried to be kind, she was obviously annoyed that my lack of coordination had interrupted her class. Some of the other class members were patient, but most made it clear that my sprawled, sweaty self impaired their full participation in the rather involved choreography. Just when I had decided to drag myself to the door to get out of everybody’s way, one of the personal trainers on staff appeared and carried me down the steep flight of stairs to the lobby where he called 911.
As I waited, the club managers rounded up witnesses, asking for written descriptions of what had happened in case of litigation. Meanwhile, a rather heated argument began between another of the personal trainers and an in-house nurse about whether or not the ankle should be wrapped. In another corner a couple of muscle-bound gym regulars started taking bets about whether my ankle was broken and if so just how bad it might be. One of them berated me for taking off my shoe telling me that anyone who knows anything knows not to do that. Since it was the nurse who’d taken off my shoe, I just smiled dumbly and nodded.
To make matters worse, a police officer, who introduced herself as the “advance team,” showed up to drill me, “Are you a Massachusetts resident?” she asked. “Well, no,” I tried to explain. “Are you currently employed in Massachusetts?” she barreled right ahead. “Uh, no, but why is this necessary? ” I asked. Was this some sort of reality show stunt? I hurt my ankle, I didn’t rob a bank! “Just answer the questions, ma’am,” she said. And so I did. I sat there, self-conscious in my damp gym clothes, humiliated, and surrounded by dozens of staring eyes as I tried not to howl in pain. Any remaining hope I might still have had for a graceful exit evaporated when the ambulance arrived a few minutes later, blaring sirens and all. As the EMT guy wrapped my ankle, he asked if there was someone he could call for me.
I had been largely successful in my efforts up to that point to keep my composure during the chaos, but his question made me feel pathetic. “No,” I whispered. “There isn’t anyone to call.” He asked me again, “certainly there’s someone who will be worried if you don’t call.” Nope, no one at home who might be worried and no one to call. Though I have a big family, none of them live in New England. My closest friends live hours away as do my rarely-seen home and visiting teachers. I certainly wasn’t going to call any of them to come unnecessarily from so far away. “No, no thank you. I’m alright,” I said. But, I wasn’t alright. I was miserable and in pain and I was going to have to be miserable and in pain by myself.
All of a sudden a woman I’d never met before was at my side. She introduced herself as Donna and said, “I was right behind you in class and saw you fall, you poor thing. I’m going to the hospital with you, honey. It’s going to be alright.” And because she said so, I believed her.
Donna followed the ambulance to the hospital and helped me check in when I arrived. She wheeled me around the ER, found ice for my ankle, and told jokes to make me laugh during the long hours of waiting. She bought me sodas, showed me pictures of her kids, sat with me while they took X-rays, and later helped me with my crutches. When I couldn’t do it myself, she even helped me put my stinky old gym sock on again so my foot wouldn’t be exposed when I hobbled outside and into her car which was waiting to take me safely home.
Later that night, after spending almost six hours as the grateful recipient of a stranger’s service, I couldn’t help but wonder, had the situation been reversed and she had fallen before my eyes, would I have been the one to notice, to go and sit with a stranger when she was hurt? Were we in different positions would I have made myself a friend to the friendless and been the one to bless another’s life? Would it have been me?
Recently, Adam reminded us that despite our sincerest commitments to virtue, we can’t be sure how we might respond to every situation. Will we respond with service, love, even self-sacrifice when the chips are down? It is a meek acknowledgment of mortal frailty to admit that we can’t be certain. We see an example of this in one of the most poignant of all passages in scripture. As Jesus sat with the twelve immediately prior to the great sacrifice He would make on their (and our) behalf, He revealed that one of them would betray him. Although such a possibility would have grieved them deeply even to consider (think how Peter later zealously declares that he will never be offended at Christ) in a moment of contrite clarity, each ask, “Lord, is it I?” (Matt 26:22)
Adam’s recent post and the passage from Matthew point to the courage necessary to face the possibility that we might fail to achieve our highest aspirations, that in that darkest moment we might turn out to be someone other than we thought we were. These examples point to the need for grace in those darkest hours. If the ship were going down into the black abyss I have no doubt that my natural survival instincts may override my better qualities, requiring an act of grace-infused heroism to overcome. However, such moments are rarely, if ever, experienced by most of us. I may never have the opportunity to rise to the heights of heroism in sacrificing my life by drowning in the deep for another. But, grace is required in less dark hours too. What I do have, almost on a daily basis, is the opportunity to overcome self-interest and live a life of service, to learn to be like Donna for wounded others.
Even with that much more muted goal, I remain uncertain. I’m left wondering whether I would always be the one who would lift the fallen stranger. While honesty constrains me to admit potential failure even in this intention, were the situation reversed, I hope it would be me.
Very thought provoking post. Kind of reminds me of the premise behind the movie Pay It Forward. Next time you see a fallen fellow aerobicist, you can repay the kindness of that saint of a woman who aided you.
Melissa, you don’t post often, but when you do, POW! It’s great stuff. Thanks for the very, very good thoughts.
Thanks Melissa, and good luck with your ankle. What’s the prognosis? Are you still on crutches?
I grew up in a family of people that would have loved to play Donna’s role, we love to be needed by someone like you. (The difficult — and more common — cases are being needed by someone who doesn’t appreciate the help or seems to be a black hole that no amount of mortal service will benefit. Alas.)
What surprises me about Donna wasn’t her willingness to help, I identify with that, but her insistence. I wouldn’t have thought to tell a stranger flatly, “I’m going to the hospital with you.” It would be awkward for you to say, No, thank you, and I’d be reluctant to impose that potential awkwardness on you.
It’s interesting for me to consider how gender is a factor. Had it been Donald instead of Donna that said, “I was right behind you in class and saw you fall, you poor thing. I’m going to the hospital with you, honey. It’s going to be alright,” would you have believed him, because he said so?
So here’s a question for you. If we didn’t know each other (pretend it’s June 2003), and I was there instead of Donna, and said, “I can go with you to the hospital. Would you like me to help you?,” how would you have answered? Could I have been the one to buy you sodas, show you pictures of my kids, and drive you home?
Great post. You cover a lot of ground here. A few topics that you seem to be examining:
1. It would be wrong to characterize this post as “The Plight of the Single Mormon Woman: Part 18 of a 347-part series.” There is a lot more going on in this post than just discussion of single Mormon-hood. Nevertheless, this post certainly ties in to your other comments and posts on the unique difficulties that single Mormons go through.
It’s particularly sad when you write “No,” I whispered. “There isn’t anyone to call.” At that point, I can’t help but feel that you’re articulating a deeper worry — the worry of being alone.
As church members, we often fill our general socialization needs through the church. But for many — and it sounds like you’re one of them — the church can provide shallow socialization and general spirituality, but not the kinds of deep friendships that we can rely on in times of need. Those tend to come from family, friends, or work. (More on work below).
2. I wonder how much of your plight has to do with being a single-Mormon-without-nearby-family-or-friends, as compared to being a single Mormon student without nearby family or friends.
I’m in a city far from friends and family. If something happened to me, my wife and children would be the ones who would want to know about it.
But even if I were single, if something happened to me, there would definitely be someone wondering about me. For better or worse, in a job like mine, if I were suddenly out of action for six or eight hours, I would need to let my co-workers know about it. And they would probably be very supportive, as far as co-workers go. I don’t know that they would be changing my socks for me, but they would be asking if I’m alright, and possibly sending a card to the hospital if I’m there for a while. And expressing concern when I get back to work.
As a student, you’re less plugged in to that kind of network.
3. I’m wondering, is this what feminism is all about? Didn’t Virginia Woolf ask for a room of her own? And it’s nice to have a room of your own, because you can read and write and do what you will, without interference. But the downside is that, when you hurt your ankle, there’s no roommate to help you around.
It’s my impression — perhaps wrong — that you have firmly established your independence, as a stand-alone person in a city far from family. This is, in a way, a statement — “I’m an independent person.” But the downside is that, as an independent person, you’re on your own when it comes to trouble.
And this harks back to feminist and anti-feminist arguments, independence versus safety. Women want to be able to go explore the Serengeti just like men. But the fact is that some of the men who explore the Serengeti get eaten by the lions. You have to suspect that those men, around the time the lion jumps on them, were wishing they were a little less independent. And when women win the right to explore the Serengeti, they’re also winning the chance of being eaten by lions themselves.
It all relates to the fact that independence is not an unalloyed good. Feminists fight for women’s independence — rightly, I think — but there are certainly going to be individual instances where this change, and this move down the protection-independence spectrum, may end up making particular women less happy.
I don’t know that you’re saying that you would trade your independence for more security. But it does sound like you’re recognizing the fact that there is a downside to independence.
4. Also, I wonder what this says about our tendency to form online friendships. With the internet, telephones, e-mail, it’s often easy to pretend that distance is irrelevant. We can chat or blog or have long e-mail discussions. It’s easy to trade in offline friends who aren’t as compatible for online friends with whom we can have great discussions. (umm, like this).
But there’s a downside. As nice as we all try to be to each other, Nate or Matt or I can’t drop by the hospital to see you. And we often don’t know enough about each other’s schedules to know when the other is having a rough time.
Online friendships are great. But incidents like this drive home the need for offline friendships as well.
5. I also thought that your “kindness of strangers” moment was great. We’ll have to call you Blanche from now on, or perhaps Vivien.
And to think — you coulda been a contender. :)
Goodness, I’ve written a novel. I’ll stop now.
I was recently presented an opportunity to help a fallen stranger – It cost me about $40 in food and gas, missing my family on father’s day, giving up a day of vacation time, and great physical stress on my body (searching mountain ridges are tough!) – yet like thousands of others weren’t directly sucessful. I’d like to think I passed this test. I wonder how many tests/opportunities I missed in the past? Hopefully I’ll pay closer attention in the future.
Kaimi, your comment number 3, “Is this what feminism is all about?” is a little odd to bring up. What does feminism have to do with any of this? If the story were written by Mark, a single man living in a city alone, far away from family, feeling there was nobody around to call, would you spend time pointing out that greater independence = less safety? Would you remind him that independence was his choice, so he’d have to live with its consequences and imply that his choice was perhaps wrongheaded by using a loaded-language question to begin your lecture?
You say, “the downside is that, as an independent person, you’re on your own when it comes to trouble” and imply that women who are lured away by the idea of feminism are thinking wrongly that they can have their cake and eat it too; that they can’t be protected and independent at the same time. Give Melissa a little credit – I suspect that she realizes (as much as our fictional Mark realizes) that living alone means dealing with problems on your own, and there’s a good chance that she, along with millions of other independent women, are just as capable of dealing with the problems of independence as are their male counterparts. That’s what feminism is all about – recognizing that women are capable of making their own choices, taking care of themselves and living with the consequences of those choices and actions.
I don’t think Melissa’s story is about feminism any more than this one is: http://scriptures.lds.org/luke/10/30#30
And it was just as touching.
Loved this post Melissa, except for the fact that you hurt your ankle so badly. Hope its going to heal up fast.
Those of us who have grown up in the church are used to hearing treadworn assurances that we’re never really alone, but stories like yours highlight the fact that all comforting and well-meaning truisms aside, we very often are. And unfortunately, while having family nearby or being married usually helps, it doesn’t always help (especially in bad marriages or family situations), and it is certainly no magic shield against loneliness or feelings of helplessness and isolation.
What I found particularly interesting as I read your post was my own felt response: while I don’t know you from the proverbial Adam, and while we might not even like each other were we acquainted (though I doubt it), I (like many readers, I’m sure) felt terrible that I wasn’t there to be of help–not because of some vague altruistic desires I may or may not have, but because I know of no satisfaction deeper than that I feel when I can render service to someone who needs it and appreciates it, unless it’s to render such help to someone I truly love. To put it simply, it feels really good to be trusted and able enough to help someone. That is perhaps the aspect of missionary work I missed most acutely when I returned home; that nametag, white shirt and tie–at least among members–established a relationship in which people weren’t afraid or hesitant to ask for your help, trust you with confidences, allow you to make sacrifices on their behalf, or to just be friendly. And that unspoken invitation to be helpful and worth something dissipated almost completely upon returning home–especially in the church, where I now occupied a kind of no-man’s land between having a legitimate place in the youth programs of the church and being married with children.
What I guess I’m trying to say is that I’ll bet the woman who helped you was at least as grateful that you let her help you and feel that profound sense of genuine importance as you were to receive her help. Or maybe it’s just the emotionally needy among us who feel that way, so that what might be heroism or self-sacrifice on that part of a better person than me, would in my case be a pathetic chance at self-validation or some such thing. I don’t know. Since I teach and write about Levinas I perhaps think about these issues more than most, but even his account leaves me dissatisfied, as I feel hostage to the claim of the other not as a given (as Levinasian phenomenology claims I should), but only in moments when I am already hostage to selfish considerations.
While little of this might seem related to your excellent post, it seems to me, the more I consider it, that being alone seems as much a function of having someone you can help as of having someone who can help you. Some of the most truly kind and giving people I’ve known (a remarkable Jesuit priest I met in grad school comes immediately to mind) have also been the most willing to accept help or ask for it–which I think is the side of charity we least attend to. In any regard, I found your story wonderfully honest and thought-provoking. And it seems to me that someone who would gracioulsy accept and appreciate help from a stranger as willingly as you did would be equally likely to render it.
I’m certainly not trying to suggest that Melissa’s choices are wrong, or that feminists in general are wrong to seek greater independence for women. (I’m not seeing the loaded language or implications that you seem to be seeing, LRC.) I am pointing out that one general consequence of greater independence can be less security. Melissa’s experience highlights that trade-off. It’s a trade-off that I’m glad that women are free to make. Nonetheless, it is a trade-off.
(In addition, there is a definite current of accepting or even exalting aloneness that runs through portions of feminist thought. What is it that Virginia Woolf thinks that a woman needs to achieve independence? A room of her own. (And money). And yet Woolf herself notes that the isolated room can become a site of exile.)
LRC and Matt,
It’s a little ironic that critics on both sides of the political spectrum, in criticizing perceived agendas, suggest that an answer is to gender-flip the participants.
LRC and Ana,
Melissa’s post raises significant gender and feminism issues. Donna responded to Melissa because Melissa was a hurt woman, not because Melissa was a hurt human being. It’s unimaginable that Donna would have said, had one of the beefcake men been in Melissa’s position, “I was right behind you in class and saw you fall, you poor thing. I’m going to the hospital with you, honey. It’s going to be alright.” Addressed to a man who’d hurt his ankle, those words would seem condescending and designed to offend.
In the same vein, above I asked Melissa how she would have responded to an unknown me, had I offered help. I wanted to know if she accepted Donna’s help mostly because Donna insisted — but what if I volunteered, and what if I was a male peer? I didn’t have to ask her how she would have perceived an unknown man who offered help in the form of, “I was right behind you in class and saw you fall, you poor thing. I’m going to the hospital with you, honey. It’s going to be alright.” Keeping everything else constant — the words, tone, expression, age, social class — the man’s gender would have led Melissa to perceive him differently than she did Donna. This is because those words would never be said to a man, those words would only be directed to a woman. Most women would be put off if a man said that to a woman — as though he thought women need men to pat them on the head!
Great post. Very touching. I think I know Donna. She is a woman in my ward named Nancy. She would hop into an ambulance with a stranger any day, and not take no for an answer. And anyone would be glad to have her.
I am sorry to say that I would probably not do what Donna did, but I would say a prayer for you as I saw you fall, for what that’s worth. I would have probably helped you to the ambulance, but that’s as far as I would have gone. I pray for random strangers all the time, especially when I see medical helicopters or ambulances.
Oh, and Kaimi, when Blanche was depending on the kindness of strangers, she was being led away to a mental hospital. Not sure Melissa would want to be called “Blanche”, a faded Souther ex-prostitute who drifts in and out of madness. But hey, I don’t know her, maybe she does. :)
I think all the gender flipping is a bit silly.
The woman who helped Melissa was simply being kind. If the woman was a man instead, he could as easily have volunteered help as well, and his words probably would have been different to fit context.
I think the whole ‘honey’ and insistance and such, was more a result of who Donna is than the fact that Melissa is female.
And just out of curiosity, what part of MA are you in, Melissa? I’m currently living in Worcester, but I spent at few years in Boston and I’m from the South Coast (New Bedford/Fall River area) originally.
Thanks for this great post! Btw, next time you are asked, please call me if you ever need anything! Get well soon.
Very touching, and a little sad. Helping people can be so awkward. I never know what to do. Do they want me to help them? Will they feel patronized, or annoyed? I wish it were easier.
Melissa’s a blogger on T & S, which means that she’s already in the madhouse. :P
Thank goodness for the Donna’s of this world.
I’m always quick to help but battle with feelings of being patronising or intrusive. It’s easier helping friends whose natures you know, but harder knowing how to help strangers. I do know of someone who in their insistence to help goes that one step too far and instead of being appreciated, is thought of as meddlesome and interfering. I’d hate to go down that line too.
I’m with Crystal – comment #14 – gender doesn’t make any difference, only the words may change. Though how I would react should a strange man offer to take me to hospital I’m not sure! You would only have appearances to judge by and that can be pretty deceptive too.
Melissa – hope you’re feeling better.
Melissa, I’m so sorry about your ankle! Ick, what a painful and annoying situation this must be for you right now.
To answer your question, no, I almost certainly wouldn’t have done what Donna did, though I’m not proud of that fact. First of all, I never have the kind of freedom to perform significant acts of service like this–and they almost always DO require time and freedom–at least not on the spur of the moment. Secondly, I myself would have been profoundly uncomfortable to have Donna accompany me to the hospital; I would have thanked her graciously for the offer but strongly insisted that she not come, because the discomfort of imposing on her like that would have made me anxious and uneasy the entire time. I would absolutely, hands down, rather go through something like that alone than have to worry about someone else’s feelings while it’s happening. I think this is a personal fault of mine, and I wish I were more able to accept significant acts of generosity from others, but I’m really uncomfortable with it and that discomfort often makes me hesitant to put others in the same situation.
All that said, like Travis I have been so deeply grateful and gratified on those occasions when people have asked me to render significant service to them: a single friend asked me to accompany her to the doctor for an ultrasound of a lump in her breast; a widow in the ward often asks me to grocery shop for her; the sister I visit teach asked me to pick up her son from daycamp, and it made me so happy to feel trusted in that way. (Unfortunately, I forgot all about it at the appointed time because of a disruption in our usual schedule, and I swear I haven’t felt worse about anything in YEARS! The sister was very gracious, and her son was fine, but I felt so terrible about it; blessedly, she asked me again, and again I was so very grateful for that sign of trust from her.)
All I can say is that my wife is often the one.
I’m sorry I neglected this thread. I’ve been away from a computer for several days.
Gender may have played a role in this situation. Before Donna stepped forward one of the ripped guys at the gym asked if I wanted a ride home on his motorcycle. Without hesitation I declined his offer. Still, that may have been due more to a disinclination to ride behind this particular man on a motorcycle than an unwillingness to accept help from a man in general. If it were June 2003 and an unknown you insisted on helping me home in your car, I’m not sure that I would have resisted. Men are obviously not all the same.
Thank you for your thoughtful response to my post.
Levinas is a favorite of mine. Where do you teach and write about him? I’d love to get your thoughts on _Time and the Other_ sometime.
I’m in Riverside, RI (just South of Providence)
Thanks! You’ve always been such a good friend.
You’re right. It is difficult to know when and how to help people. In my experience it is often those who do not ask for help who need it the most.
What I find interesting about your comment is how much I relate to it. I too would rather have gone through my little ordeal alone—so much so that if Donna had asked me if I wanted her help I would have refused. Because she insisted, however, it would have been rude for me to reject her. Her paternalism (or, more appropriately, maternalism) ended up being a good thing for me. And I think it was a good thing for her too.
Once I got over being self-conscious and proud and was able to really enjoy her presence, I recognized how much the experience meant to her. In fact, she repeated again and again how “grateful” she was that she hadn’t skipped class that night because clearly God had wanted her to be there to take care of me. Service is a funny thing that way. Before she left, Donna said that meeting me made her want to learn more about what Mormons believe. I thought she was crazy to say this. I should have been the one interested in her religion, right? After all she was the one who’d spent the evening serving me. But, curiously, that’s not how it played out. To my amazement, Donna left me that night with the feeling that I’d done something nice for her.
I think we often overlook the mutuality of service. I am coming to understand that being needed is a great gift.
This discussion reminded me of a conversation I had at church yesteday with a member of my ward that related to me a similar experience, magnified a thousand times.
My good friend BK is from Angola and we have been through some rough times the last several years since his conversion. He is rock solid in his testimony and has never openly struggled to stay active. He grew up in horrible poverty but better than most since his father was a leader, Catholic Priest (?) and shaman of his people and wealthy enough to be a polygamist. BK fought in the war in Angola, suffered incredibly but never mentions it. He is self educated, speaks English, Portuguese, French and a couple native languages and he has very original thoughts and insights.
BK came to the US and drives a taxi cab. He married and divorced before joining the church here. A couple years after his baptism his then 9 year old daughter was in the same SS class as my daughter. One Sunday afternoon she turned up missing. She was found strangled to death a few days later and BK was the prime suspect. The police did not have enough evidence to prosecute him but they were almost certain of his guilt and interrogated him intensely many times. We took our daughter to the horrible little funeral for her friend. BK returned to Angola which further heightened suspicion about him and showed back up here after several months. Few members even wanted to speak to him. Eventually another young girl living in her neighborhood confessed to killing his child with a shoe string over some petty gang related dare. I can not comprehend the agony he went through and yet he has kept a positive attitude.
BK met a beautiful woman from Brazil who visited our ward and married her after a short courtship about 4 years ago. They went to meet their families and she got stuck in Brazil. She is a second generation LDS and related to local leaders. They spent these first years of their marriage apart and only recently has she been able to get back here legally to live together. In spite of the long seperations they have managed to have two little children.
BK’s wife has a brother, Bro. W. who is a Branch President in Brazil. About 6 years ago several of the members in that part of Brazil chartered a bus for a temple trip of some 800 miles each way. On the return trip the bus collided with a truck and several of the members were injuried. This is the sort of news that you never read about in the Church News. Sis. W. had severe injuries to both of her legs which eventually resulted in their amputation. The amputations were not done skillfully and have required many revisions. Her doctors have done the best they can but it is not very good and they realize that if she could see a better surgeon in the US, her condition would be so much better and she might be able to be fitted with prosthetic devices that would allow her to walk and take better care of her two children, one of which was born after the accident. Amputation of both legs is a significant disability here with all of our medical resources. You can imagine how devistating it must be living in a third world country with few amenities and not having the use of your legs.
Sis W. is trying to come to the US and get treatment. She will probably plan to stay with her relatives initially and be in my ward. Of course she does not have insurance and just getting the plane fare will require several month’s wages. I told BK I would check around and see if there are any options. Especially since I do not live in Utah, are there any programs that give health care to members of the church from third world countries out there? Do any of you on this web site have any other ideas how we could help this faithful sister?
Where would I begin?
I realize that there are probably close to a million LDS in Brazil and it is a third world country and many of them probably have terrible problems. I can’t begin to help any of them but since I have know this BK dude for many years now and he has been through so much I want to help him help his sister-in-law. If I was reading this from some one else, it sounds like a possible con game or scam. The only assurance I have is that it is their relatives which is not going to fly with very many people. So legitimate charitable organizations have to be the way to go.
1. In no way was I trying to articulate “the worry of being alone.” Of
course there are moments when I am faced with the reality of not having the
support of a spouse, when my car breaks down on the highway or I fall in
step class, for example, but other than those exceptional experiences, I
rarely think about it. My post was not an attempt to evoke pity, but rather
a reminder that there will always be those in our sphere of influence who
are without support and who need us.
2. You are right that my situation is due in part to being a dissertating
graduate student. I am isolated as a function of both the city where I live
and also my work. I’ve never found myself quite so alone and imagine that I
won’t ever be so again. This highlights the fact that there might be those
around us whom we do not think of as being without support—they may have lots
of friends or come from a big family (as I do) but temporary circumstances
are such that they need us.
3. I couldn’t be more disappointed than I was by your description of my
situation as “what feminism is all about.” I would not characterize
feminism as being primarily about independence. What feminism *is* about is
really a topic for another post, but for the purposes of this comment,
feminism is about equality. Quite apart from the feminism issue is the
question of indepence versus security. You seem to suggest that these two
are mutually exclusive, which dichotomy is patently false. If by “secure”
you mean physical, psychological and/or financial security, then I have
personally been more secure in my independence than I ever have been in
previous experiences of “dependence.” Having said that, I am not in the
least committed to the sort of independence which you associate with being a
“stand-alone person.” I’m a communitarian, for heaven’s sake!
Independence does not exclude security (which is an important concept in
your comment that you fail to define) nor does it constitute security.
4. Lastly, I highly value my online friendships. However,
technology-mediated relationships, whether via computer as in blogging and
email or via telephone calls will always lack important aspects of live
friendships. There is something infinitely precious and irreplaceable about
voices and hands and faces. Still, I truly appreciate everyone’s kind
Well, I’m sorry that my comment disappointed you. Let’s see —
1. For not trying to write a post about the fear of being alone, you did a very good job of showing how that fear operates (I think). Your description of your position — “I had been largely successful in my efforts up to that point to keep my composure during the chaos, but his question made me feel pathetic. ‘No,’ I whispered. ‘There isn’t anyone to call.'” — is very strong. That whole paragraph is a powerful description of the fear of being alone. “I wasn’t alright. I was miserable and in pain and I was going to have to be miserable and in pain by myself.”
Of course, your Donna-ex-machina would be substantially less impressive if she didn’t have a dragon to slay. So maybe it was your intent to show the stark contrast between your earlier state of fear and loneliness, and your later state of comfort.
Still, the take-home point that I came away with was “how awful that she had to suffer like that with no one to call!”
2. Well, we agree here, I think, so there’s nothing to argue about. :)
3. As usual, I have a knack for saying things in precisely the wrong way.
Let me try to rephrase my point. We all operate on a spectrum between the poles of independence and security. Any move in either direction will entail trade-offs. There are things to like about independence. And there are things to like about security.
Your story made me think of that trade-off — it struck me that you were in a position where you had left behind many of the normal Mormon security networks, and that your predicament was in part a function of your place on the independence-security spectrum. I mean, isn’t that right? (Put aside my possibly-incoherent attempt to connect it to a broader feminist arc for a second, please). I mean, if you had broken your ankle in Provo, would you be relying on Donna? For all of its drawbacks, Utah has a pretty good member support network, and the East doesn’t. (You allude to this, mentioning seldom-seen home and visiting teachers).
Anyway, I still think that the independence that draws people away from family networks — and hey, I’m doing this myself — has a lot in common with Virginia Woolf’s room of one’s own, and her discussion of exile. But I shouldn’t have said that that was “what feminism is all about” — overstatement on my part, for sure. Or perhaps one of those “but you didn’t read what I meant?” moments.
4. I too value my online friends. You
guyspeople are great! :)
But it is definitely fun to meet people in person.
5. I hope you’re feeling better soon. And don’t forget to watch your step! ;)
Melissa. I wrote my dissertation on Levinas and Heidegger, and those are the two figures I most often teach (along with various other phenomenologists and topics courses on phil of art, film and architecture) when I’m not busy running BYU International Cinema. I’m currently catching up on a few of his recently published works as I finish up a book on him and prepare to teach a faculty seminar on the implications of his work for the social sciences–so I’d love to discuss “Time and the Other” or any other aspect of his writings with you.
Good post, Melissa. Very good.
No feminism involved in this subject at all.
I know Melissa! Well, I know of her at least, and here it is: she has a beautiful singing voice, is remarkably articulate (which she’s already proven to us), sensitive to differing backgrounds and feelings of others, and is a fantastic substitute Sunday School teacher. I don’t know you well, Melissa, but I so appreciate (not to mention strongly identify with) your post.
Typically, I find this blog too intimidating for me to make comments, I’m not as articulate as many of you. But Melissa stirs me to write in and say, “Amen, sister!” By writing to us of your experience, you are providing a common thread, albeit a cyber thread, for which we all, regardless of our life’s circumstances, can understand. All of us have moments (and I stress “moments”) of loneliness, of feeling high and dry. We all occasionally struggle with allowing someone full access to our vulnerable times, when we have become incapacitated in one form or another, and cannot do for ourselves what nevertheless needs to be done.
I had an experience about a month ago, where I was overcome with a sudden pain, which hit me out of the clear blue on a bus to work one day. It incapacitated me so immediately, and so completely, that I nearly lost consciousness. I literally could not control my response to the pain; it hit me like a freight truck. My body broke into sweat, the blood drained from my face, and I collapsed as soon as I got off the bus. This has NEVER happened to me before. I had lost control completely, I could not move for the pain. And all the while I was experiencing this, marveling at what in the world was happening to me, I felt a calm thought going over and over in my mind which, if put into words, went like this: let yourself be helped.
I, too, am unmarried and have family far away. I do have roommates, who were all at work, which I suppose I could have called. However, I knew I couldn’t even lift my head, much less dial a phone number. Besides that, like Melissa, my first inclination is to handle anything and everything by myself. Because I can. Well, perhaps not this.
So as I’m kneeling by a park bench, waiting for the pain to subside long enough to get to a private area, two men (yes, MEN) approached me and immediately began to help. One of them gave me his water, while another went to go get some ibuprofen. A third man (yes, MAN) had called an ambulance, much to my horrifying shame. They all stayed with me until the EMT’s showed up. As I spoke with the EMT’s, I noticed that the pain, which before had prevented me from even putting five words together, was starting to subside. I now had enough strength to explain to the guys that I did not need a hospital, and that I would be fine. It took a few minutes to convince them, but I felt certain that this wasn’t a serious matter. I signed a waiver, and they were on their way.
I like to look back on this and ponder what I learned. One aspect of it that gives me a great amount of happiness, is my increased faith in the inherent decency of men. (Call me Ms. Du Bois, as well, though I think my problem for most of my life has been the lack of dependency on the kindness of anyone!) I came away grateful for a hard but poignant lesson. I also came away humbled at the love given to me though this bizarre experience – not just by the those men that assisted me, but also through the companionship of the Holy Ghost. I know He was there, pointing out the significant parts of it to me, to ensure that I was learning what was there to be learned.
So you can see, Melissa, why I so appreciated your post. And I feel connected with you (in a silly way, maybe) because of what we’ve both learned about helping others, and allowing others to help us. For all we know, Donna had a Donna, which later allowed Donna to be your Donna. ;-) Perhaps this process is how Donna’s are made, how we learn to succor those who are in need; we need to understand what it is to need! Though my experience is teeny and meaningless in comparison, it is nevertheless not too far off from the pattern established by our Supreme Rescuer in Gethsemane and Golgotha. I hope that that’s not too presumptuous of me to say.
Because of my experience, I suppose I have a much better shot at being a Donna someday than I ever did before. Anyway, thanks again Melissa. What a great story.
Thank you for your very kind words. We must have been in a ward together previously?
As Latter-day Saints we are carefully taught to give and serve. We are also consistently reminded to be self-sufficient. These lessons, while important, can sometimes cause us to overlook or undervalue that sort of mutual interdependence which is necessary to flourish. This has been a difficult truth for me to accept, but I’m grateful for the many opportunities I’ve been given lately to practice it.
It sounds like you recently had a reminder too. I’m so glad that you felt comfortable enough to share your own story. I think you’re just right that experiencing need may very well be the way “Donna’s are made.”
Mary, please continue to comment here. We need your voice at Times and Seasons.
I check this site every few months and I never leave a comment, but your post is powerful. Thank-you for reminding me about treating each other tenderly. All of us can thrive if we give like this and receive like this more.
From someone who has benefited greatly by Melissa’s “Donna” like acts, I can certainly say, I know it would be you! Thank-you Melissa!