I blame my parents, really, for all my troubles.
Mom had hearing so perfect she could hear paint dry. Dad couldn’t hear a low-yield nuclear weapon. My sister took after Mom, and I – naturally – followed in my father’s ever-silencing footsteps. A huge schnoz, blue eyes, and hearing loss are my primary paternal genetic hand-me-downs. Our mutual hearing loss was slowly progressive, making communication slightly harder as the years rolled by. No big deal for me, really; I can’t recall a time when Mom didn’t tell people that I had “a little trouble hearing.”
As little boys are wont to do, hearing loss or no, I grew and the hearing loss got worse. That’s when Mom’s true colors began to shine through, like a flashlight through a disposable cleaning rag used too long in the nursery department.
“Mom, I’ve been waiting for the newest Frank Herbert book to be returned to the library. Can you drive me over there?”
“Why – your bicycle broken? Did you forget how to use it? Have they moved the library from where it has been for the last 47 years? No, no, and no? Then ‘No.’ Get over there yourself.”
“Could you call them and see if they have the book?”
“No, but I’ll show you how to use an amazing thing called a phone book and you can call them yourself.”
“No, Mom, not the phone….noooooo! Librarians mumble!”
Heartless, no? It got worse.
“Mom, I’m making a thing for school and I need wing nuts. I’m not sure if Handy Dan carries them. Can you take me?”
“Why not call them?”
“No, please, anything but the phone. You don’t know how hard it is to convince people to talk directly into the mouthpiece. I can’t hear them!”
“Ethan, no one – NOBODY – in this world is gonna flex for you just because you have trouble hearing. Cops will still pull you over. Professors will continue giving the same exams. Employers will make the usual demands. Figure out a way to cope with this yourself, because the world is largely devoid of people who will understand your hearing loss. That’s life, son. You want to know if Handy Dan carries wing nuts? Call them yourself or go down there yourself. Figure it out.”
Dad wasn’t much better even though his meanness was a little different.
“You want to see that movie? You want a baseball glove? Well, put on your oldest pair of tennis shoes, grab a garbage bag and a magnet, and let’s hit the road. Yep – we’re headin’ over to the high school – walking, no less – to dumpster-dive for aluminum cans. No one’s gonna hand that stuff to us, so we’re just gonna have to get it done ourselves.”
“Whatcha doin? Reading? Need your help for second – we’re gonna move all these books, take down the shelves, and rip out the wall. I’ve never liked this wall here, but I could never afford a home remodeling guy. So – we’re gonna do it ourselves…for the next 8 months.”
Do it yourself. Do it yourself. Do it yourself.
When a Sears service truck totaled our car and the insurance was insufficient to replace it? We replaced it ourselves, Dad (and the family) taking on a second job as church/Christian school janitors. When we needed more moving air in the house, Dad purchased the world’s heaviest ceiling fans and we learned to install them ourselves. Whatever it is you’re planning to do, do it yourself.
It was just the way we did things, and I don’t think we were radically different from those around us.
Mom was right. The world is indeed full of people who care not that I can’t hear them. Cops have been unreasonable. Professors made difficult demands. My employers still expected quality work. Sales clerks and doctors and teachers and nurses and customer service and neighbors – the list is as limited as Donald Trump’s credit. And true to my parents’ counsel, I’ve had to figure it out myself. Of course, that’s not the only way I learned to be independent, but it is pretty indicative of my approach to things.
It’s a good thing, no? To be independent? To get it done yourself? To avoid being one of those whiny people who say, “Could you…for me? I can’t. Can you…? I can’t.”
However, is it possible to be too independent?
Last month, my wife had to travel to the US for work just after Christmas. We enjoyed our holidays and had our fun, then she took off. Incredibly long story made fairly short, several days of discomfort on my part ended with a quick and easy appendectomy up the hill at Hospital Metropolitano. Having seen two other appendicitis diagnoses in the family, I figured out what was coming. In the days preceding my surgery, I cooked a bunch of meals, typed 3 pages of instructions, and talked the kids through what to do in various circumstances. I locked the kids in the house and took my phone, my ID, and a credit card with me as I taxied up to the ER with my lab reports in hand.
Wife was in South Carolina while I was in room 220. The kids stayed home. Alone. Just the three of them. After a 2-day stay, I messaged the kids that I was on my way home. I paid my bill and strolled out the front doors of the hospital and down the street to find a taxi ride home.
Do it yourself.
I was proud of us, the whole family, for how we handled things ourselves during that little escapade. I remained proud right up to the moment I started hearing from others.
“Why wouldn’t you say anything? We only live 5 hours away, and we had NOTHING to do! No one was around the day after New Year’s and the traffic would have been light. We would have driven here to watch the kids!”
Even people outside the country got into the act.
“Did you hear about the Moore family? How Ethan snuck off to the hospital and they didn’t tell anyone? Makes me wanna wring SOMEONE’S neck – not gonna say who, though. Why…why just do it themselves? I’ve known those kids since they were tiny and would have loved to head down there to watch them.”
The worst part was the looks on the faces of my national friends. “You have no family here, only friends…us! Why not include us? Why couldn’t we have been involved? We would have picked up the kids to go see you, stayed in the room and visited…what possessed you to go it alone?”
Somewhere along the way, independence turned into isolation.
I never would have thought it, though. I work hard to be a servant to others, to seek out needs in order to do what I can to support people. I’ve labored conscientiously at being a better team player and cooperator. What somehow got lost was that on the level I understood it, independence is sometimes antithetical to other notions. A true sense of community sometimes opposes the independence I’ve always assumed. Teamwork does, too. A Christian church on par with the book of Acts isn’t one that will display the “Do it yourself” approach.
Independence, whether the rugged-individualist type or the quiet do-it-yourself type, is not as biblically-prized as we might expect. Cooperation and teamwork and community requires not only that we give of ourselves to others; it also demands that we allow others to give of themselves to us. “Serve one another” means that someone has to be willing to accept the service of others.
And unlike independence, serving one another isn’t something that can be taken too far. In the case of mutual service, too much is not enough.