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new featureAn Out of Country Experience-Part 25
(Please check the archives if you've missed previous installments)

Rebecca L. Morgan
Help! I'm Being Held Captive..
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Tales From The Barstool By: Clint Lien
"The Youth of Today"
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In My Opinion
By L.N.P.

"I Can't Do It All Myself"

I can't do it all myself. Five words that don't seem too emotionally charged. Nothing particularly hostile about them; nothing especially remarkable either, just sitting there by themselves, all innocent and nave. In fact, if you were to overhear someone saying those five words, it would depend entirely upon the tone of their voice, the inflection, the expression on their face, to whom they were speaking, and the situation about which they were speaking for you to know anything about their meaning.

Let's say, for example, that your six-year old son runs off with his new toy, insisting that he can assemble it on his own. An hour later, sheepish grin on his adorable little face, he walks up to you and says, "Daddy, I can't do it all myself." Well, that's really awfully cute, isn't it? And there's even a lesson or two to be learned from the experience. Certainly, the words themselves convey an admission, and along with it a petition for help. They'll probably lead to some quality time between father and son.

A person of faith says those five words often. If you came upon someone in prayer, you might very well catch him or her saying, "I can't do it all myself." Of course, if you stuck around, you'd undoubtedly also hear them ask for God's help, or God's wisdom, and you'd realize what they meant. An admission, perhaps, as well as a petition to God. Or, for someone mature in his faith, a simple statement of fact, as in; "I know I can't do it all myself."

A single mother, trying to work and raise her kids might be heard saying those words upon occasion. No one would blame her; she's got her hands full. Or a guy trying to juggle two jobs, plus coach his kid's soccer team and build a deck onto his house; he might just get caught saying something like "What was I thinking? I can't do it all myself."

Pretty benign phrase, really. Can sound whiney or self-pitying at times, insightful, or even pious at others, but it's not going to upset anyone. It's not like one of those trick questions; you know the ones, like "Honey, does this dress make me look fat?" that every man has learned (through painful experience) to avoid at all costs.

EXCEPT! Have you ever been part of a relationship, either with your spouse, or business partner, or room-mate, or coworker, in which you were absolutely positive that you were contributing at least 50% of the effort? And, whether that effort was the housework, or the family business, or running a huge corporation, or raising the children, did the other person in that relationship ever say to you, "I can't do it ALL myself?" Because only if you have had that experience, only if you knew that you and that "other person" were SO equally invested, SO equally devoted, SO equal in effort, only then can you know what a monstrous impact those words can have.

It comes at you like a poisonous dart, with venom and with speed. It is both an explanation, generally for one's foul mood, and an accusation. More than likely, the dart thrower will insist that the latter is not so; it wasn't meant as an accusation. But how else then, can it be perceived? When someone says, referring to a project, or a business, or a household, that "I (just) can't do it ALL myself," does that not imply that somehow he or she believes that that is what they are, in fact, doing? And please note that I inserted the "just" into the sentence, because you can always hear the "just." It's a qualifier; it is meant to explain that "It's just that I wouldn't be feeling so stressed (depressed, anxious, exhausted, uptight, angry, disappointed-it doesn't really matter; some such word will definitely belong there) if only I didn't have to do it all myself. There's no other way to take such a statement, is there?

Even when you know deep inside that this person whom you love, or respect, or have chosen as a partner could not possibly believe that you don't do just as much as he or she does, even when you could, although you never would, produce a list that proved beyond any doubt that you have done the same if not more than he or she does, the only conceivable reaction to such a statement is to get defensive. The dart, you see, has already begun to spread its deadly poison, and you begin almost immediately to feel paranoid. Is he accusing me? Doesn't she notice everything that I do? Why doesn't he think my contribution is worth every bit as much as his? Does she actually think I've been slacking off? Does he really resent me???? And of course, the moment you fall prey to those thoughts, you have to defend yourself. Or walk out of the room and slam a door. Or throw something.

At least, that's what I always did. In fact, it's exactly what I did the other day when I heard my husband say those very words. But then I thought about it. I stayed in the room whose door I'd just slammed, sat on the edge of the tub, (OK, so it was the bathroom) and thought. And prayed. (yes, my beautiful daughter, you were right.) At first, all I was asking for was patience. I wanted the anger removed from my heart, and patience, wisdom and understanding to take its place. And that happened almost immediately, because when you honestly want to banish anger, it's amazing how quickly it departs. It's such a fleeting thing, really (unless you've been holding it within you for other reasons) and just as it flares up in an instant, so does it die away.

So, I was no longer angry, but I wanted more. And I thought about myself. Hadn't I ever, in the midst, say, of cooking dinner, while running a load of wash, after working all day AND paying the bills; hadn't I ever been standing alone in the kitchen feeling like I couldn't do it all myself? And then, just as quickly, hadn't I realized that I didn't do it all, that my husband did just as much, and that we really were a perfect team? It's just that sometimes, every once in awhile, when I was feeling unusually put upon, or unusually overwhelmed, I acquired this unattractive little "martyr" trait. But I never really meant it; it was just a feeling.

And when my husband had said those words out loud, had he really hurled them at ME, or had they been uttered more like a lament, an expression of his feelings. To be fair, they had sounded like a cry for help, a prayer, a heaving sigh of desperation. And if I chose (because everything is a choice) to interpret them as an accusation, then what was wrong with me? Why would I, confident in my contributions, allow someone's momentary feeling make me paranoid? Didn't that say way more about my vulnerabilities and way less about the words themselves?

And I thought, too, about the ways I could have responded. I could have heard the feeling instead of the words, and put my arms around my husband. I could have asked him what particular ALL it was that was getting him down, and if there was any way that I could help. I could have told him how sorry I was that he was feeling overwhelmed.

None of us, however, is perfect. None of us can always respond in the best possible way, or speak with the best possible intentions, or see into another's heart faster than we attempt to protect our own.not always. But what I slowly discovered as I sat on the bath tub's edge is simply this; there is something we can always do; we can make the choice to try.


Send me your opinions at LParis@netlistings.com

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