What Holds You Up? Or, the Hands that Frame Your Risks
I hopped on my bike and started pedaling, determined to arrive on time. I’d left home a little bit late, but I could still make it on time if I tried. Even though I was moving quickly, I savored the crisp autumn morning around me. It was a perfect day for yoga in the park, a donation-based event hosted by Shoals Yoga.
As I pulled up to Wilson Park, I heard bells chiming the hour. After locking my bike, I pulled out my yoga mat and joined the other yogis on the grass. Glad to have arrived in time, I tried to quiet my racing heart and settle into the breathing exercises.
Every time I turned my head, I couldn’t help but smile; there was so much beauty around me. Gentle sunlight beamed through the leaves, and light reflected off the fountain at the center of the park. It was idyllic, and I felt fortunate to be able to move my body and enjoy it.
Towards the end of the practice, we started working on inversions — poses that involve going upside-down. We were practicing headstand, a pose I’m comfortable with … in the context of a yoga studio, that is. I typically practice headstand close to the wall; it feels safer that way.
But in the park, there were no walls. For the first time, I was challenged to try an ‘unsupported’ headstand. I kicked one leg up — so far, so good. But I couldn’t quite work up the nerve to kick my other leg up to meet it. Though I knew I had the strength to do the pose, the absence of a wall intimidated me. I brought my leg down.
Ashley, our instructor, saw my hesitation. She moved through the mats to stand beside me. “Do you want to go up again? I can support you,” she said quietly. I felt a smile spread across my face. It was exactly what I needed: for someone else to be my wall. With her beside me, I knew that I could give the pose another try.
“Yes, let’s do it,” I said. Getting into position, I kicked one leg up, moving the other to meet it in the air. Ashley’s hands framed my feet with the lightest touch, just enough for me to find my balance. Then, once I was still, she moved her hands away, and I held headstand on my own.
What a rush! Time seemed to stop as I focused on maintaining the posture. I held headstand for as long as I could, then slowly brought my legs down. “Good job!” Ashley said softly. I was surprised; I’d been so intent on holding the pose that I didn’t realize she was still there. But I was also relieved; in doing that headstand, I’d been safer than I knew.
As we moved into the final poses of our practice, I thought: That’s what real friendship is all about. Real friends dare one another into being braver than each one knows how to be. Real friends come close, because they know that their presence can be a powerful catalyst for growth.
And that’s what caregiving at L’Arche* is, too: the act of coming alongside. It’s the practice of empowerment, of giving just enough support. Real caregivers use their hands to support someone else with the gentlest touch possible, so that the other person is doing as much as they can on their own.
Seasoned caregivers know that small supports can make or break a person’s day. They know that their touch may make an impossible day bearable, and a beautiful day transcendent.
As I pedaled home from yoga in the park, I thought: Help me to remember this. Allow me to recall that, no matter how small or insignificant I feel my contribution is, it may be significant for someone else. And allow me to accept the help that is given to me. Because with it, I can do and be so much more than I’ve imagined.
It’s the secret we keep from one another, the depth of our need for support. The extent to which it matters whether or not we have trusted hands framing the risks we take. The choice to listen rather than tune out; to call rather than stay silent; to show up rather than stay home.
Thank the people who have offered you their hands, and be sure to offer your own. It may feel futile; you may not see results as immediate as, say, a headstand in the park. But even so, keep reaching. Keep offering. Keep trying. Because really, you never know.
Today may be the day when your touch makes all the difference.
Who holds you up & supports you in the risks you take? Join the conversation in the comments section below!
Also, I’m proud to be featured on Your Lovely Life this week. Tammy Strobel and Courtney Carver’s site focuses on, “… cultivating beauty and joy every day. Through helpful articles, recipes, inspiring books and quotes you can begin to recognize what’s lovely in your life.” Be sure to check it out!
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*L’Arche is a faith-based, worldwide non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.
**Names have been changed to protect privacy.
About Caroline McGraw
I'm a would-be childhood paleontologist turned full-time writer, digging for treasure in people and uncovering sacred stories in ordinary days. I grew up in New Jersey (think peaceful suburb, not Newark), graduated from Vassar with honors, then served as a live-in caregiver and program director at L'Arche Washington DC. Nowadays, my husband renovates our historic 1901 home in northwestern Alabama, while I try (& fail) to keep our cat Bootsie from developing an epic tuna fish addiction. It's a beautiful life. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, or Google+.