I left home at age 14 when I moved from Massachusetts to Washington, DC, to attend the first school in the United States that offered ballet and academics under the same roof. I started each day with a ballet class, I went on to French and math class, I had another dance class after lunch and I finished the day with science, history and English. We students were deeply serious about pursuing a career in ballet, and we loved seeing Jackie Kennedy on Tuesdays when she brought her young daughter, Caroline, to take a ballet class.
I had my own room in a makeshift dormitory across from the school where I slept, washed out my leotards and tights, sewed ribbons on my pointe shoes and did my homework. I weathered sprained ankles and blisters, I ate at an adjoining cafeteria, and I figured out how to maneuver life. I was on my own, responsible for my homework, getting to bed at a decent hour, and working hard to excel in ballet.
I cried a lot back then, I struggled with loneliness, and I was comfortable and engaged only when I was dancing. The upshot was that I learned to do things on my own that most kids do under the tutelage of a parent. In essence, I was an adult in a child’s body and I raised myself. I got really good at making adult decisions and talking myself down when I was filled with anxiety. I became a champ at discipline and consistency. I decided what was good and bad for me. But I never learned how to ask for help. It made me feel unsafe to need much of anything from someone else.
We lost a magnificent spiritual leader last week, Baba Ram Dass, a guide/guru for baby boomers when we were coming of age. In his last book Still Here, I feel moved by his description of how embarrassed we feel when we need help. He said, “We are all just walking each other home.” He didn’t say we were walking ourselves home. Helping others, he says, is also helping himself and he works on himself in order to help others. He believes that we are all here to awaken from the illusion of separateness.
If you grew up “before you were cooked” like I did, it is especially difficult to ask for and receive help. But this is something we have to learn so we can save ourselves from despair now, and as we get older. I figure if we didn’t need help from other people, there wouldn’t be billions of us on the planet. We would be all alone.
If I could go back, I would encourage my teenage self to ask for what I needed. We all need each other, that’s a fact. No one is meant to do it alone. When we ask for help, we encourage others to do the same. This is the kind of world where I can be proud to live and die, a world where I need help, you need help, and all we have to do is figure out how to give it and how to get it. In this way, we can feel connected and united, not separate and embarrassed, a much better way to go through this challenging life of ours.
Do you ask for help? How does it make you feel?