Big rewards for helping others

My column is called Ruminations. Being that this is farm country, many people may think of ruminate in relationship to cows, where they chew their cud, or chew again what has already been chewed. But it also means to contemplate, to meditate, to muse upon.

That’s what I do; I think about things, roll them over in my mind, and meditate on the various meanings. My ruminations a few weeks ago ran to the oft heard phrase, “if there’s anything I can do for you”

As it happens, I recently had surgery on both my hands, a week apart. Several friends and relatives earnestly told me if there was ANYthing they could do, please let them know. So I decided to try a little experiment. I’m not one to ask people to do things for me. I consider myself pretty self-sufficient. But I decided to ask for help where help was offered.

I asked two friends if they would provide a meal the day of or the day after my first surgery. I asked another friend if she would come take care of my household chores for a day. I asked some of my relatives to come and keep me company and help care for my father who now lives with us.

Without fail, everyone I asked for help came through for me. Not only did they do what I asked, but went above and beyond in what they did. I didn’t ask everyone who offered, and I don’t want them to think I don’t appreciate what they were willing to do. It was an experiment in my own faith in human kindness.

I have always assumed that when tragedy or hardship hit, the offers of help are made out of kindness and concern, but with no real intention behind them. I’ve done it myself; offered help to someone, never thinking they would actually take me up on it; although if they did, I would certainly follow through. This was a welcome revelation to me, that when people offer help, they really, truly mean it. Perhaps my friends and relatives didn’t think I’d actually ask them for help, but not a one balked at doing something to help me out.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about what I do for others. I believe most people are basically good and well intentioned. Underneath the gruff exterior of many people lies a loving soul and a lonely heart. Without being asked, I try to brighten the day of people I encounter.

I had the opportunity recently to visit a local nursing home four days in a row. On the first visit, I saw an elderly woman sitting in her wheelchair, muttering under her breath and cussing out everybody and everything. I walked up to her and asked if she’d like to go for a ride. She scowled at me and said, “They won’t let me out of this damned place.” I smiled at her and said I was actually thinking of a spin around the unit.

I took her wheelchair and walked her around the floor, chattering about the paintings on the wall, the food in the cafeteria, and anything else I could think of that might interest her. She never said a word. Then I returned her to her previous spot, I asked her for a smile. I got a scowl for a response.

I asked her again, thinking perhaps she hadn’t heard me. Again a scowl. So I knelt down in front of her and said, “Are you going to give me a smile or not?” She looked me right in the eye and grinned from ear to ear.

By the fourth day, she was greeting me as an old friend, asking about my day. I don’t know if she has relatives or friends who visit her, but all she needed was someone to show a little interest in her to get her out of her bad mood. There were several residents in the nursing home that I took the time to talk with and spend a few minutes of my time. I went away with mixed feelings. On one hand, I had spent a little time talking with some beautiful elder folk; on the other, I was leaving them, most likely to never see them again. Had I built up hopes and then dashed them? Would they even remember me after a few days? I certainly will remember them.

Doing for others, making people smile, engaging them in conversation, makes me happy. I sometimes wonder if I’m doing these things because I’m self-serving and just want to feel good. But then, does it matter? We all win when we share ourselves.

Robyn Near is a Ripley resident. Send comments to