Why aren’t you helping?
I’m in the kitchen of extended family, watching two teenagers and two middle-aged couples make it look as if a dinner never happened here. As they somehow manage to not quite stumble over each other, dirty dishes are being cleared off the table and put in, or given to, the dishwasher as appropriate. Leftovers are being assessed for volume, packaged, and hidden in the fridge.
Do you want to throw this out now
or shall I put it in the fridge
so you can throw it out later?
Why aren’t you helping?
I’m helping by staying out of the way.
Where once I would have been in the fray up to my elbows, now more and more I stand back and let the young ones do it. The ones who really are as young as I think I am. In short, I help by staying out of the way, and not just when cleaning up after a dinner party.
Sadly, the previous generation no longer needs my support: I am now the aging parent.
Happily, the next generation no longer needs my earning power or my parenting skills, such as they were: My children have that age-and-stage well in hand.
Inevitably, society no longer needs my wisdom or experience, such as they are: Before I retired I found myself turning to new graduates for help with navigating new technologies on work projects; I now appeal to my children and grandchildren for similar help in my personal projects.
Getting old means getting useless, or that’s how it can feel.
God doth not need
Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best
Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state
Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed
And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
– Sonnet 19, John Milton
Milton and I likely don’t share much theology, but the oft-quoted final line certainly resonates for me increasingly, and no more so than now.
I’d love to help with the coronavirus pandemic. I could use my nursing skills, but I lack any. I could offer my project management skills, but it looks to me as if they have at least enough hands on the tiller, and it’s just possible that knowing something about public health measures would be important.
All that I can do is help by staying out of the way, avoiding situations that might expose me to the virus. So that I don’t get sick or get sick later. And so that I don’t unwittingly infect someone else.
They also serve who only stay at home.