Every so often I pull a neck muscle and it knocks me out for much longer than you’d think a neck muscle should be able to do. Heads are heavier than you think, and apparently necks are important.
Three weeks ago I strained it again (it is always the same muscle – someone help me please?). I was perfectly healthy, but I was suddenly made immobile. I had to lay flat on my back. I had to cancel all my meetings and change them to phone calls. I felt trapped in my body, annoyed at my inability, and terribly inconvenienced.
The next day I woke up completely unable to move, which is a scary feeling. It felt like my head was lead and my neck was screaming? I sheepishly asked Andrew, “I’m stuck and can’t move. Can you help me up?” Andrew gently scooped me up out of bed and set me up on the corner couch propped up with pillows. He set me up with blankets and hot water and all of my books and notebooks and laptop for school and work, a charger for my phone, a bottle of ibuprofen, and a freshly hot heating pad for my screaming neck. I felt like an annoying princess who couldn’t do a thing for herself. I was profusely apologizing. I sat there for many hours, a mixture of grateful and sheepish, and very still.
The independent American culture tells us that to be in need is embarrassing, with the assumption that we should be able to figure everything out on our own. Strength and confidence are to be lauded, weakness and confusion to be hidden. Put your “best face forward” always, and keep the softer side of things for yourself. The spaces where our vulnerable selves are welcome are like rare gems hidden in a jar of plastic sequins. The fear of being a burden keeps us quite in our need, and we learn to try to do it all on our own.
As I sat propped up with pillows, I thought about what Andrew said as he set up my injured-princess-couch-station. “Please stop apologizing. I want to help.” I realized that my little cry for help had opened opportunities for him to care in ways he wouldn’t have been able to if I had kept quiet. I realized that our relationship was better for it because there was a truer picture of me (even if I didn’t necessarily like it), and he could then love me according to my actual reality and my actual needs. Most of my friendships have blossomed through vulnerability and love that is committed to seeing. Going out dancing that evening would have not been good. But being cozy (and immobile) on the couch watching the Great British Bake Off, on the other hand, was very good! Love that sees can adjust and watch baking shows with great content.
To be in need is to be human. I am learning not to shirk from it with shame, but to courageously ask for help from friends, family, co-workers, and strangers. With carrying groceries, opening doors, thinking through work projects, teaching me how to cook an entirely new dish for 10 people. I am learning what a gift it is to ask, “How can I help?” and see the magic of love-that-sees at work. I am wondering how a culture of interdependency can be taught and lived out as a radical movement against our individualistic culture; one that declares that we were created to be dependent on God and others and so when we are, we are most fully who we were created to be.