“Lean on me, when you’re not strong”. – Bill Withers
As some of you may know, or have gathered from previous postings, I’ve had a fun medical year with a broken foot that ended up needing surgery back in September. I am on my feet and walking around now, but I’m still having trouble with mobility and tend to move at what feels like a snail’s pace.
Last week, a friend and I attended an event that turned out to be much larger than I had anticipated. As a result, parking was at a premium, and we wound up in a spot a couple of blocks away.
When we got out of the car, I apologized in advance for the fact it would be slow going, even over such a short distance. Without missing a beat, my friend looped her arm through mine and said “There’s no hurry. We’ll take as much time as you need”.
I was, quite literally, leaning on her as we walked… at my pace.
I’ve been replaying this scene in my head all week, thinking about how it applies to our lives.
An argument can be made that we must be self-reliant, and I don’t completely disagree. YOU are the only person who will be there for every moment of your life, so you need to be comfortable with yourself and your ability to navigate obstacles. We must learn to develop our own sense of judgement- and put our thoughts into action- all by ourselves.
“These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world”. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
But that’s not really what I’m talking about. Because look, life comes with some surprises, and it can be very hard- but we don’t have to go through it alone. Wanting people by your side and wanting to be there for others does not mean you’re weak or incapable, it means you’re human. Let’s be honest, we can read a million inspirational quotes and do all the self-talk in the world, but sometimes we need a different type of encouragement. We need people who show up and advocate for us, especially when we’re acting as our own worst stumbling block.
If we want to be able to do this for each other, we have to make an investment, and be present in a tangible way. We have to be in each other’s corners, we have to listen, and we have to match someone else’s pace.
Now to be clear, I’m not talking about being an enabler. It’s not our responsibility to make excuses for someone’s behavior or to do their work for them. When we advocate for someone, we’re lending them our faith in the idea that they have the strength and courage to deal with whatever life sends their way, and the assurance that hard circumstances won’t last forever. People need to hear this.
As a rule, I think we’re
quick to praise, but slow to encourage. There’s nothing wrong with praise- I’m
the first to applaud achievement, and I’m happy to do it, as I think most of us
are. It feels good to be recognized for our accomplishments, especially those
that are hard-won. But the first step should be to encourage, because beginning
is always the hardest part, and we can all use a little push sometimes.
The other thing I have to mention is that this is a two-way street. You have to be willing to accept help from others- to lean on them just as they lean on you. It’s infinitely more difficult to accept the idea that you need help when you’re struggling, overwhelmed, or discouraged than it is to encourage someone else who’s experiencing those things. To ask for help or admit we just can’t do it alone takes a special kind of bravery.
I’ve found that most people don’t ask for help, even from the people they love, so we have to be vigilant. I, myself, can be frightfully obtuse, and am trying to be better about recognizing the signs that people are struggling. Sometimes I even succeed.
We can’t solve people’s problems for them, but we can all be someone to lean on when the walk gets long. We can encourage people and pour our confidence and faith into them. That can make all the difference for someone who feels desperately isolated and alone- something we’ve all experienced.
Bill Wither’s “Lean on Me” has lyrics that speak to this idea perfectly. Listen to the song here.