Rethinking "helpless"

A friend of mine has been going through a scary time, preparing for a medical procedure.

I know the "right thing to do" is to call her. To reach out. To be present. To listen. To let her know I love her. This is what I would advise anyone else to do.

And yet earlier this week I found myself resisting those things, because I didn't feel confident in my ability to help. I have had very few medical problems of my own, and really don't know what a person in her situation needs or wants. I don't have any special wisdom or healing technique to offer. I was afraid I'd call her up and feel awkward and not know what to do.

Yeah, best to avoid that discomfort, a voice inside me said. Leave the reaching out to other people who can do a better job than you. There is absolutely nothing you can do to help. You shouldn't even try. 

But helplessness is a great big lie.

Just because some circumstances are out of my control -- i.e., my friend is sick, and I can't heal her -- doesn't mean that everything is out of my control.

Just because I can't help in ways I wish I could help, or think I should be able to help, doesn't mean I am helpless. 

What if I interpreted my feelings of helplessness not as proof that there's nothing I can do, but as a signal that I don't yet know what there is to do?

What if, instead of shutting me down, helplessness prompted me to open up and get curious: Given the limitations that exist, what could I do to be helpful? What would feel good to do? Who or what could help me figure it out?

The truth is, there is always something we can do to help, and when we truly want to know what it is, it doesn't take long to find it.

I did end up calling my friend this week, just like I knew I should. But I didn't do it until after I'd shifted from helpless passivity into a place of hope and empowerment. I was ready to offer her love not because it was the "right thing to do," but because it felt like the best way I could help. I believe that shift made all the difference.