Rate of Exchange

“Remember, we all stumble, every one of us. That’s why it’s a comfort to go hand in hand.”- Emily Kimbrough

I’ve been sort of floundering around over the past few weeks, trying to come up with a topic worthy of discussion, and failing miserably. I’ve decided it’s because my musings here tend to be rooted in conversations I have with friends in the normal course of life…and there’s been far too little time spent lately with some of the people who inspire me and make me think.

Because our house is still practicing social distancing, the precious little socializing I have been able to do has taken on a very special quality. When I saw a friend recently after months apart, I was surprised by the depth of the emotional reaction I had to seeing her in person again. I mean, I’ll be honest, I always feel a little bit like I’m getting away with something in my friendships; like I’m getting the better end of the deal without the other person quite being aware of it. That feeling is even more pronounced now, because I feel the absence of these interactions so keenly.

This period of separation leads me to consider how we form and maintain the kind of deep bonds that withstand life’s hardships. (As we get older, there sure are a lot of them, in one form or another.) I’m referring to those relationships that survive time, circumstance and distance; the ones that can pick up precisely where they’ve left off without ever having to navigate a period of awkwardness or apology. The ones that always come through in the clutch.

In other words, the good kind.

As I was surfing around online today, I came across a story that spoke to what I think sometimes defines that type of relationship. It doesn’t hit the idea, precisely, but runs parallel to it.

To paraphrase:

A child heard her mother ask their neighbor for salt. Once they were alone, the child asked her mother, “But why did you ask for salt? We have salt at home.”

Her mother replied, “Our neighbors don’t have much and often ask us for things. I want them to continue to come to us, so that we may help. So, sometimes I ask them for something small that doesn’t burden them but makes them feel as if they are repaying the things that we do for them. Knowing they are giving back makes it easier for them to ask for anything they need from us.”

The idea of reciprocity in relationships is not a matter of one person coming up with ways to make another feel better; it’s more the idea that those trades allow us to reveal things pride might otherwise prevent us from expressing. When we reveal our own vulnerabilities, it provides someone else the freedom to do the same.

I’ve talked before about how remarkably hard it is to ask for help. We can feel very alone in our struggles, even when all evidence points to the contrary. That’s why we need support from others, even while we’re insisting that we can manage a crisis on our own. We’re not meant to face life alone.

I’ve argued this point into submission on more than one occasion, because we need those ties when things get hard.

I’ve also sort of been hoisted on my own petard by someone who echoed these sentiments back to me …because I’m obdurate, and knowing you need support can still live a whole world away from asking for it. But reciprocity has allowed me to put away every stubborn objection…and I’ve found the scales sometimes balance in unexpected ways.

So consider this: you’re not the only one who reaps a reward when you share your needs. You’re doing more than that—you’re building a framework for reciprocity.

If I’ve lent salt, I can ask for sugar. If I’ve lent support, I can ask for help.

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