Rushing to Help

With bowls and ingredients in hand, my wife Heather armed herself to make my birthday cake. Naturally, Missy jumped to help, eyes aglow.

For those of you who remember my previous chronicles of our disabled aunt/ward, who’s 43 in physical age but much younger in heart and soul, you may recall that she lives life with enthusiasm. So when she helps out in the kitchen, Missy throws everything she has into it – in more ways than one. As Heather later related it, the script for the afternoon looked something like this:

HEATHER: “Oooh, hang on.”

MISSY: (Begins plopping spoonfuls of cocoa directly on the cake.)

HEATHER: “Wait, honey, I have a bowl.”

MISSY: (Drops two-thirds of the cocoa and most of a bag of sugar in the bowl.)

HEATHER: (Turns around from softening butter) “Oh, my goodness, hang on, that’s a lot of cocoa!”

The result was perhaps the most well-frosted cake in the sidereal universe, along with a broadly smiling Missy and a thoroughly exhausted Heather. Rarely has a baker been so eager to light the candles.

It’s not the first time Missy has hurried to assist around the house. If we start to hang up clothes, she immediately grabs a hanger and a shirt – though her coordination is such that she often tries to place a sleeve on the hook rather than the base. In dish washing, she’s quick to rinse and eager to help empty the dishwasher – but it sometimes takes a sharp eye to make sure that dirty glasses don’t join the clean ones on the shelf.

So yes, at times, Missy’s help requires an extra dose of attention. It can leave you feeling a bit wrung out by the end of the task. Sometimes it’s even tempting to quote Max Bialystock in “The Producers” and say “Don’t help me.”

But when a willing spirit offers, what can you say but yes?

It’s something that’s familiar to a lot of political movements these days. When groups have a common overall cause but different agendas, a lot of energy can be wasted on internal friction as each decides the other isn’t “doing it right.”

“Don’t you know that …?”

“Where were you when … ?”

“Oh, this is so important, but what about …”

Without careful attention, a movement can end up going sideways rather than forward, unclear where its next step should be and how it should be taken. Again, it’s tempting to say “Go tend your own garden and leave mine alone.”

But that kind of splintering results in a lot of small nudges rather than one big push. And it misses so many opportunities.

As with Missy help, it can be a teaching moment. An awkward alliance can be a chance for everyone to truly learn another’s cause, history, and motivations.

Even more so, it forces you to pay attention to the task at hand. We spend a lot of our life on auto-pilot, doing familiar things in familiar ways. But when you have to keep an eye on how someone else is washing the dishes, you also focus more carefully on your own. If you have to instruct someone else on your goals and tactics, you’re also reminding yourself.

The enthusiasm can make things take longer. But with care, it can also produce a satisfying result – and just maybe, some long-term lessons that stick with everybody for the next time.

As it happens, the cake was beautiful. Sure, the frosting was a bit thick and the sprinkles were all in one small area. But it didn’t matter. The result was something sweet, to the taste buds and the heart.

So thank you, Missy, for helping out Heather.

When it comes to assistance, you really take the cake.

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