Help

Most of us have friends, who have found themselves in dark places. Sometimes the reasons our friends are in such situations are obvious–the reasons are “environmental,” psychologists might say. Other times, our friends are lost for more complex reasons. Occasionally, we can still identify some causes–grief, trauma, mental illness, or a combination of these and other things.

Regardless, we want to help our friends find their way out of the darkness. Sometimes, a gift of money or even just emotional support can provide our friends the nudge they need to find the right direction. But other times, especially in the more complex cases, we just don’t know what to offer. And when we finally find something, we aren’t sure if it will be of use.

Time spent out-of-doors is what often gets me through the rough patches in life. Such time helps me reorient, to find my bearings, and to continue on through the difficult terrain waiting for me at work, home, or wherever. Not surprisingly then, when friends are disoriented and depressed, I often suggest they spend some time away from their busy lives. In many cases I suggest they go fly fishing.

In the great semi-autobiographical novella, A River Runs through It, we find author Norman Maclean struggling throughout the story to help his brother, Paul. Paul Maclean is troubled by an apparent gambling addiction and perhaps by alcoholism. At one point, Norman discusses this problem with his father. Readers will recall that the father, John, is a Presbyterian minister in Missoula, Montana. Like his sons, he is also a flyfisher. Indeed, he taught his two sons to fish. The following passage describes the discussion between Norman and his father. Norman, of course, is the narrator.

He went to the door and looked out and when he came back he didn’t ask me any questions. He tried to tell me. He spoke in the abstract, but he had spent his life fitting abstractions to listeners so that listeners would have no trouble fitting his abstractions to the particulars of their lives.

“You are too young to help anybody and I am too old,” he said. “By help I don’t mean a courtesy like serving chokecherry jelly or giving money.”

“Help,” he said, “is giving part of yourself to somebody who comes to accept it willingly and needs it badly.

“So it is,” he said, using an old homiletic transition, “that we can seldom help anybody. Either we don’t know what part to give or maybe we don’t like to give any part of ourselves. Then, more often than not, the part that is needed is not wanted. And even more often, we do not have the part that is needed. It is like the auto-supply shop over town where they always say, “Sorry, we are just out of that part.”

I told him, “You make it too tough. Help doesn’t have to be anything that big.”

He asked me, “Do you think your mother helps him by buttering his rolls?”

“She might,” I told him. “In fact, yes, I think she does.”

“Do you think you help him?” he asked me.

“I try to,” I said. “My trouble is I don’t know him. In fact, on of my troubles is that I don’t even know whether he needs help. I don’t know, that’s my trouble.”

“That should have been my text,” my father said. “We are willing to help, Lord, but what if anything is needed?

“I still know how to fish,” he concluded. “Tomorrow we will go fishing with him.”

(Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, Twenty-fifth Anniversary Edition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 81-82).

So, Norman and the Rev. John Maclean give “parts of themselves” to John and go fishing. They give their time, their passion, and their love as family members and fishermen. In the story, Norman indicates that this fishing trip was meaningful to all. Perhaps it was helpful, too. However, it was not so helpful that Paul was able find a path away from his troubles. In the story, he is beaten to death at Lolo Hot Springs. In real life, he met a similar end in Chicago.

I recently lost a friend. Her passing was a shock to all, especially to her family. Still, many of us knew she was struggling, and we offered those parts of ourselves that we thought might help. Admittedly, my friend and I never fished, though we certainly discussed it. Of course, I did offer other parts of myself–pieces of my life and practices that allow me to live successfully from day-to-day. I had hoped these offerings might help reorient my friend and find strength through her new connections in nature. Unfortunately, the reasons for her struggles were many and complex. And the help that I and other friends offered was not enough. As John Maclean says above, of all the parts of our lives we can offer to others, sometimes we just  “do not have the part that is needed.”

Rest easy now, Matoyaaki.

img_2695

4 Responses to “Help”

  1. rivertoprambles Says:

    So true. And sad.

    Like

  2. Jeff leary Says:

    Tears, and prayers, Kenov. Jeff

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: