“As you grow older, you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, and the other for helping others.” -Audrey Hepburn
After a brief check-in with my mental health, I decided it was time to go back to therapy. Sometimes, the problems we face are a lot bigger than us. So I needed to ask for help. When I got there, it went well! I talked about what was on my mind. My therapist asked the right questions. And at the end I had homework to do. Nothing difficult: just some breathing exercises, making sure to eat. More than anything else though, I was urged to keep a mental list of the people I loved and assign a positive memory to each of them. So for this week, my blog will serve a dual purpose; first, to continue providing stories rooted in positivity; and second, as physical proof for my therapist that I did my homework.
Like anything we do to better our minds or bodies, it’s work. But not particularly hard work. For me, at least, as I have a whole host of memories and experiences. So today I’ll talk about my cousin Ethan. He’s appeared on the blog before, during that fated walk to Friday’s when the two of us were young. You can tell a lot about a person by the stories others tell about them. Are they smart? Funny? Do they stick around when you need them, or do they disappear out the back gate at the first sign of trouble? In a tight spot, you wouldn’t want the latter type to be standing next to you. Luckily, my cousin Ethan has proven he is indeed the former. Across decades, through countless memories and experiences, he’s proven it time and time again.
Together with our families, we’d spend many a weekend vacationing up in Wisconsin. In a tiny two bedroom house on the edge of a shallow lake, the 10 of us would squeeze in together liked sardines for food, fires, and quality time. But there was no joy to match that of my father’s jet ski; we would tube for hours on the lake, spinning in the same wide, wet circles until the sun would set and it was time to go home. Some of us, like Vince, preferred the slow course–he found his joy in cruising idly around, watching the shoreline while his feet skimmed the water. Others, like Nick or Adam, wanted nothing more than to see just how fast the jet ski could go; like stones, their bodies would skip across the water as they lost their grip on a 20 mph turn. My cousin and I were somewhere in the middle: young enough to want to test our strength but not yet strong enough to withstand too much pain.
So when we put on our life jackets to go tubing that day, we both agreed we could handle it. Even if we couldn’t, my cousin reminded me, we would have each other so we’d be fine. The tubing started out like usual: my father made the same slow, wide circles before driving us through the middle, right over the waves. But soon we were tired of the same routine and demanded more: faster speeds, higher waves, tighter turns. It wasn’t long before the both of looked at each other, having briefly been airborne, and realized we were in over our heads. As we smashed back down onto the lake, I lost grip on one of my hands. Still hurtling forward, the pull of the water on my feet dragged me back as my other hand slipped. Desperate, I curled it around the cousin’s life vest as I desperately tried to find my footing and pull myself back up. He grabbed my free hand with his and, for a moment, his left hand served as our mutual tether to life. Until I slipped further and he removed that hand to grab me as well. In the span of a second, our eyes met as we realized what he had done. And as fast as we’d realized it, we were already submerged in water with my father making his way to us, asking if we wanted to go again.
So while Audrey Hepburn’s quotation above is a beautiful testament to using our talents in order to help others, it is not always true. Most of us do have two hands– one to help ourselves and the other to help others. But sometimes in our lives, by fate or by change, we find a person whose instinct is to use both hands to help others. And regardless of the circumstances, they do it, even if that means being pulled under the water with us. This is a short but beautiful story that speaks a lot to my cousin’s character. What’s even better is that his was not a passing trait of youth. In his heart and at his core, he has always been the same. Throughout our lives, our paths have seemed to overlap at some pretty key moments: loses in friendship, moments of heartbreak, or new and unfamiliar periods of change. I’m glad that, through it all, that inherent goodness and selflessness has not disappeared. So while I sit here in my backyard, eating watermelon and soaking up the last bits of summer sun, I’m thinking about that story. That one and many others like it, when I knew beyond a doubt I had found a lifelong friend.
Have any stories of particularly outstanding friendships? Or maybe you experienced a time where someone (or yourself) showed that they also had two hands made for helping others? Comment on our post or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org! We’d love to hear from you. Stay safe and hopeful!