what can i do to help?

Six powerful words, right there. What can I do to help? And yet, how often do we fail to ask that simple question? Three things came up this week that made me realize how impactful those words can be.

On Monday, I took a tour of an independent school, and one of the young children who was working on a project about the endangerment of bees had written what he would say to a bee if the bee could understand him: What can I do to help you?  What incredible insight and empathy from such a small child- and what a perfect question to ask.

The second instance involved the neighbor of Ryan’s dad and stepmom. His stepmom, Leah, who has the kindest heart, recently discovered that their elderly neighbor has been undergoing radiation and is extremely sick, but doesn’t have any family or friends looking after him. With tremendous sadness, she told me how he could barely get his garbage can to the curb, and how she couldn’t believe no one was around to help this man– a man who has the words “kindness is contagious” posted in the window of his home. She has since been going over to check on him, talk to him, and find out what he needs help with. We decided to have a meal prep party on Sunday and prepare meals for him that he can easily heat up on his own. It’s a small way to help out, and I hope other neighbors will follow suit as they become aware of his situation. And all it took was one person, Leah, to notice him and simply ask the question, “How can I help you?”

The third circumstance is something from my own life that I have struggled with lately, being in a close relationship with someone who is away a lot for work. I know it’s not something within his power, and I can only hope it gets easier as we become more used to his ever-changing schedule. But for now, it’s hard. It’s hard to make plans. It’s hard to know if he will be around for important events and celebrations. It’s hard to relax and settle into “comfortable” because just when we start to enjoy ourselves and build some momentum, he has to leave again. The upside? He is completely wonderful – he listens to me, encourages me, reminds me we are a team, and has asked me several times the simple question, “What can I do to help?” Those few words reassure me that he hears me and cares enough to figure out a way to ease the burden of things that fall outside of our control. And it reminds me that we are in this together.

Everyone goes through difficult things, struggling with an illness, an emotion, or circumstance they may not be able to change right away, if ever. And sometimes there isn’t a clear path toward an answer or a solution. Sometimes all you can do is breathe and realize that right now, for a minute or a day or a month or longer, it’s going be hard. But maybe in those times, you can look around and ask if there is someone else who might need your help- your energy- instead.

No matter what you’re going through, even if you question how much you have to give at the moment, I’d ask you to try. Muster up enough strength to ask the question, “What can I do to help you?” Whether it’s cooking a meal, offering a hug or a shoulder to cry on, or just being there…ask. And maybe the person you asked won’t know what to tell you- maybe they don’t have an answer. But maybe just asking the question will help another human being feel supported and cared about, and maybe right now, that’s enough.


*I chose this photo from one of last year’s 365 prompts: “XOXO”. The inside of the card he’s holding says, “Thought you might need a hug.”


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