I recall an incident when I was two years old, that taught me a lesson that effected the rest of my life.
Mom had just changed my diaper, and I was playing in the sunshine on the floor of the living room. After a short time, I realized I was thirsty. So, I went over to my mother, who was working hard at scrubbing out a roasting pan. You know how hard and frustrating that can be. But, at that age, I didn’t know.
So, I waddled up to my mother, tugged on her smock, and asked for water. She nudged me away with her knee and asked me to wait a minute. Of course, I had no idea what a minute was, so I waited a long time – all of about 10 or 15 seconds – and went back and tugged on her smock again.
“Water,” I insisted.
This time, her knee knocked me backward a couple of feet, and she screamed her frustration at me. I landed on my butt, utterly shocked and terrified. I began to cry hard. She told me to go away and leave her alone for a while. So, crying in confusion and fear, I wandered down the hallway and into a bedroom.
I was really scared and alone. I thought to myself, Daddy is at work, big brother Mike is at school. I realized I was alone with this very angry, large person. There was no one to hold me or comfort me. I didn’t know what to do.
So, I continued to cry loudly.
“You better stop that crying or I’ll give you something to cry about,” threatened the monster in the kitchen. That just made me more scared. I just couldn’t stop crying.
So, I crawled up on the bed, took a pillow and shoved a piece of it into my mouth. I buried my face in the pillow and repeatedly screamed my terror and helplessness into it, soaking it with my tears. I wanted to get away, and I didn’t know how.
Then something shifted in my mind. The pillow became me: The baby needing comfort. I held the baby in my arms and comforted it, rocking and talking to it.
“Chris, come in here,” Mom called from the kitchen.
I was afraid to go. I kept holding the baby, rocking it, comforting it. Me still sobbing, struggling to stop.
“Come in here now! Don’t make me come in there to get you,” she threatened again.
So, in my childish set of mind, I decided to protected that baby. I put it carefully on the bed, and I told it, “You’ll be okay here.”
Mom yelled again. I patted the baby Chris, and left it there on the bed. I went out to meet the dragon.
Thirty-six years later, I recalled that incident. I realized that I was a split personality. Somewhere inside me, there was a baby that had been left alone in safety and forgotten. I had been bravely fighting the good fight for decades, trying to protect that forgotten baby, still crying on the bed of my soul.
Today, age 65, that memory came back with a thud as I realized that, for the last 60-plus years I had been practicing the lesson I learned that day: It is frightening to ask. Don’t ask for anything. Make your own way in life. People don’t want to help. They are mean and scary, and you can never tell when they’ll turn on you.
This has been a life theme. I can tell you story after story about how I never asked for what I needed. I never got the help I needed because I never asked. And I always blamed it on other people. I felt that they really don’t care.
Then, today, I watched a video about asking for help; and it all came back to me. The speaker said that everyone naturally wants to help. First, I recognized that in myself. I’m a good person. I have kept myself safe. And somewhere deep inside, I really wanted to help. But I was afraid to engage.
Then, I had to admit that others had the same feelings, perhaps different experiences, but the same sense of expecting others to know my needs, but never to take care of me or to help me.
And so, a new journey begins. I have to unlearn that old lesson. I need to let go of that two-year-old’s decision to avoid asking. I need to let go of that toddler’s distrust of others and fear of asking.
I need to learn how to ask for what I want. I need to learn that skill of asking, and learn to do it effectively, so that I can get what I need, and others can feel good about helping me …. So, I can help others get what they need, and feel good about helping them.
I was vulnerable, but now I’m a little less afraid. Now I have another thing to work on for a better me and a better life. And it only took a lifetime of lonely struggle. - Christopher