I have something of a confession to make: being waited on and cared for by others makes me extremely uncomfortable. Before you cast judgment on me, I want to make it perfectly clear that I love being the one who’s taking care of others, which, frankly, works out great at home since my wife’s love language is deeply entrenched in feeling taken care of and I’m happy to oblige. Yet, I’m begging you, please don’t ever go get me as much as a glass of water or make my life easier in any way. Tell me where the glasses are. Let me help with the dishes if you invite me over for dinner. If you attempt to serve me in any way, I’ll make the entire situation unpleasant because I don’t know how to handle it. Offer a word of affirmation or maybe give a thoughtful gift, so long as you assure me it was no burden to you at all.
That makes the reality of being a socially dependent creature sobering and frustrating. At any given time, just by being a human in a house of humans in a community of humans, there are always people bearing up underneath the weight of my weaknesses and struggles. The only way any relationship works, let alone an entire society, is if all parties agree to carry the weight they can carry and trust that someone else is carrying the weight that they can’t. In my life, even during normal times (unlike what we’re all currently experiencing), this looks like evenings where my poor wife is stuck listening to my ranting monologues about all of life while the laundry stacks up because I forgot I told her I wanted to be the one responsible for the laundry. It looks like my grade school-aged daughters waiting for me to gather my thoughts so I can help them with homework after coming home from an economics exam. It looks like my pre-K son patiently waiting his turn for time to wrestle and play until I catch up on everything I’m arriving late for after I get home from class.
Typing these very real scenarios makes me uncomfortable. Like I said, I hate being taken care of. Yet, the discomfort is worth it because it also makes me thankful and makes me want to do my best for them. There is no such thing as a fully self-reliant, wholly unburdensome individual. Anyone who would claim as such is only, in reality, ungrateful. We need each other, whether we want to or not.
With all that being said, it’s late April and we’re all several weeks into a pandemic that we’re told to fight by staying home. We’re not built psychologically or spiritually for confinement, and understandably no one is prepared for a situation like this. What that means is that all of us should embrace one important, liberating assumption: we’re all bad at this.
Why is this liberating? It means that while we are doing our best to cope we can realize that everyone else is also doing their best to cope, and we should give them the grace and kindness we want to experience when we’re adjusting to a new normal. Remember, if we’re all bad at this, that means you’re bad at this, too. Other people are shouldering your adjustment process just as you are carrying the weight for others, and the best way to express thankfulness is to pay that kindness forward to everyone else you see struggling to adjust.
My life was already strange enough. I’m a 36-year-old married father of three who goes to grad school full-time and works as a graduate assistant. Now, I’m a stay-at-home, work-from-home, full-time online student who’s also responsible for the education of my two oldest children while my wife earns the money. I didn’t know how to do the previous situation graciously, and currently, I’m calling any day a success where everyone in the house took at least one step forward. I’m doing my best to forget any day that any of us fail to do so.
I don’t say any of that for sympathy. I’m begging you, please don’t give me your sympathy. I only acknowledge the reality of it because it helps me stay hopeful and joyful to know that while I’m taking care of my kids they’re also taking care of me. It helps me to be kinder when they struggle to adjust knowing that part of their adjustment is dealing with my adjustment. And in some way, that makes it easier to show grace and kindness to everyone panicking at grocery stores or posting hateful, false news stories on social media. They’re having a hard time, just like I am. They’re bad at this. I’m bad at this. I want to be treated with patience and grace, so for the sake of my joy and theirs it only makes sense to treat others with patience and grace.
Until we can all spend time face-to-face again, thank you for bearing up underneath the weight of my poor adjustment to a situation I never saw coming. I’ll do my best to be there for you, too, and I can’t wait to hear your stories of how all of this was a unique challenge for you in ways I couldn’t possibly imagine.
Joe Beck is an MBA student at the Bryan School. He also serves as a graduate assistant in the Bryan Graduate Programs Office. Are you looking to share your thoughts on what it is like to be a student during this pandemic? You can send an email to email@example.com