The other day, my yoga teacher, Denise, asked me why I try to help people so often, eagerly reaching out to those who are in trouble even if it means trouble for me. I am not sure, but ever since I can remember, this has been a major part of who I am. One of my first memories is of perhaps the first time I tried to help a wounded creature.
I must have been about 3 years old. As I recall, I was standing on the corner near my house, looking down at a shining pile of glass fragments. Someone had filled a jar with bees and thrown the jar at a brick wall, where it shattered, killing some of the bees, freeing others. One of the bees, mortally wounded, with a shard of glass protruding from its body on both sides, struggled on the ground.
I didn't really know yet about bees. I wasn't afraid to put my hand down in the glittering pile and take it into my hand, feeling its soft fur against my cupped fingers. Of course, the bee didn't understand what I was trying to do, and there was really nothing I could have done anyhow, but as I brought the wounded creature toward my face for a better look, it stung me in the hand.
I remember feeling betrayed. That hurt much worse than the sting, but it was a lesson well taken because sometimes, helping others can be a dangerous thing. They don't always want to be helped or understand what one is trying to do as helping.
Despite this early lesson, a parade of wounded creatures ensued. There were fledgling birds at various stages, from featherless lumps, eyes still closed, to pin-feathered young birdlings, hungry cats, neighborhood strays. My mother, fearful of all animals, wouldn't allow me to take them into the house, but my father, more sympathetic to this effort, smuggled many of them in. There was even one swallowtail butterfly that might not have needed rescuing at all. I kept it inside, by the window, where it fanned its enormous wings in the sunshine.
Most of the birds died. I didn't know what to feed them or how to care for them properly, and most were broken by the fall beyond all redemption. But just when the efforts extended to people, I am not sure.
Early on, I was drawn to those who were outsiders, shunned and teased. I didn't have the courage to step fully into the breech, since it would have meant that I too would have been shunned, since the cruelty of the schoolyard dictated this. I would half-heartedly watch the teasing, meeting eyes with the victim, and both of us would know how wrong this was, but I said nothing, did nothing.
Later, emboldened by my own more secure adult position, I would actually intervene to stop whatever cruelty I saw, to correct it. I flared up when I heard about injustices, and tried to remedy them.
I can't say that my efforts ever had the success I hoped for, but I felt encouraged by them anyway, encouraged to continue. Probably I would have continued even if they had met with disaster. There was just some reason I had to do it.
Working in a soup kitchen on a regular basis, as I once did, stoked that fire, but I craved the more personal connection of a one-to-one effort. Being friends was something I could do, knew how to do.
Lately, this habit of mine has escalated. It was rare up to now to have more than one of these rescue missions going on at the same time. There are now two different friends I am trying to help, crippled by my own significant limitations, but using my wits as best I can to help these people out of their fixes.
Even if it doesn't work, I will have made that connection, made the person feel less alone. Perhaps this is why I do it... I too need to feel connected, and of use.