LEAN ON ME


Sometimes in our lives we all have pain
We all have sorrow
But if we are wise
We know that there’s always tomorrow

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

Please swallow your pride
If I have things you need to borrow
For no one can fill those of your needs
That you don’t let show

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend
I’ll help you carry on
For it won’t be long
‘Til I’m gonna need
Somebody to lean on

– Bill Withers

Well, the tree is down, the ornaments packed away, the party goods have been returned to their home in the basement, and the liquor is back in the cabinet.  It is time to tackle the post-holiday haze that will undoubtedly come over me as I exist in-between the festivities of the holidays and all of the joy and fun that brings and the required return to work.  While I am definitely ready to get my head back in the game and begin this very important journey of growing my business and finding some manner of success with my new endeavors, I am also feeling very melancholy about the richness of my encounters with my friends over the past many weeks.  The opportunity to toast each other and openly acknowledge how important people are in my life is addictive.  It feels so liberating and honest and is still sometimes very difficult for me to do successfully in a sustainable way.

I have a vivid memory from when I was about 9 or 10 years old. I was sitting in the front seat of my mother’s car fiddling around in the glove compartment looking through her 8-track tapes. My mother, being born in the 1930s, was a fan of artists like Frank Sinatra, Andy Williams, Perry Como and other crooners.  My mother was also a huge fan of Barbara Streisand – contemporary music for her in the 60s and 70s.  I have brilliant memories of hearing this music coming from the car stereo as we took long drives out to Mountauk, NY over the summers to visit my grandparents. As we drove fast over the hilly old Montauk Highway and I shrieked with delight as my stomach felt the dip of the road, I would hear all the familiar songs coming through the tinny speakers.

While I searched through the glove box studying the songs on each of the tapes – a pastime I often engaged in to keep myself from getting too bored (clearly, long before the days of iPhones, iPads and other handheld games) – I came across Barbara Streisand’s “People.” I had heard the song dozens of times but never really paid much attention to the lyrics. For some reason, on this day, I put the tape in and listened very carefully to the words “people who need people are the luckiest people in the world.” The words did not make any sense to me.  Why were people who needed people lucky?  Wasn’t it true, in fact, that people who need other people are unhappy and needy, hence their need for other people?  Wasn’t it a bad thing to need people?  It seems absurd to me today as I reflect back on the thinking of my younger self because, of course, I deeply understand the meaning of the words she was singing and how profound they are.  And I also know for certain that my young brain could not process the lyrics because they were an utter contradiction to the messages communicated to me by my own mother.

It was very common for my mother, as far back as my early childhood to as recently as several years ago, to tell me how she prided herself on “needing no one.”  It was a badge of honor for her because it meant that she would not be dependent on anyone else for anything – most importantly, food, clothes and shelter.  Her desperate need to be independent was certainly rooted in having survived multiple marriages and divorces and the fears she confronted when each of her marriages fell apart and she was not certain how she might persevere.  However, what my mother never understood was that by cutting herself off from needing anyone for physical and tangible support, she was also cutting herself off from benefiting from emotional connections and support.

Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog about my own challenges with vulnerability.  Being vulnerable requires trust and trust is a very complicated matter for me.  I often give it willingly, only to have it broken very painfully.  I am learning to scrutinize my decisions about who to trust and how to extend my trust so as to weed out more of the potential for negative results.  The net result, of course, is that I often refrain from situations that would force me to be vulnerable and open so as to not have to take on the associated risks.  And, like my mother, I am potentially cutting myself off from emotional connections.

One of the biggest struggles I face when dealing with friends and family is asking for help.  Sure, if I need a favor like picking my child up from school or grabbing me an item while at Target, I have no problem asking.  But, when I am emotionally raw and need moral support, I tend to shy away from reaching out to people because I do not want to burden them with my problems.  It makes me laugh to even write the words “burden them” because it makes me think of a woman in her late 70s saying no to a cup of coffee or being driven to a doctor appointment so as not to be a burden.  And, with many of the same reservations, I avoid asking for help for fear that I will, this one time, be asking too much.

Asking for help requires vulnerability.  It requires trust.  It means that I feel so strong about my relationship with you that I know that you will not judge me nor will you resent me for asking.  People often talk about the friend that is the “person I can call at 3am when I need to be bailed out of jail.”  There is an implicit understanding that this person will be there for you no matter what.  I know that I have people like that in my life yet, every time I pick up the phone, send a text, write an email asking for help, I do it with trepidation.  I worry that they will interpret this as an interference in their lives or that this time is the time that they say to themselves that they have had enough of my requests.  Intellectually, I know this is likely not the case because (a) most of my friends enjoy when they hear from me and are usually happy to lend an ear or offer a shoulder to lean on (and will tell me if they do not have the time to do so) and (b) I do not ask for help that frequently that I would wear out my welcome.  Nonetheless, the emotional part of me screams “You are being too needy, get over it” and I do my best to press on without any support.  And, while I understand the words, I still struggle with emotionally absorbing and embracing how people who need people are the luckiest people but I know that I wish I could need people more.

I have been told on more than one occasion by more than one person that it is frustrating that I am always willing to help out others but that I do not allow others to help me.  It is much like receiving and I need to be more gracious about it because most people, inherently, want to help others – especially those that they care deeply for.  One of the roads of my journey in the coming months will be to study this behavior and continue to strive to be better and improve my life.  It feels like a daunting task because it addresses that which is some of the deepest pain I struggle with but I know it is worth the hard work because it will ameliorate a pattern of behavior that gives me much pain and suffering.