I washed my seventeen-year-old son’s hair in the bath earlier this week. A stitched-up gash in his forehead from a hockey injury had to be kept dry and it was the only way we could figure out how to wash his hair. Of course, he wore his swimming trunks!
As I was pouring the water from the jug over his head, I was reminded of the countless times I performed that act when my kids were little. I was reminded of the energy required when caring for small children and then my thoughts drifted to those who still spend energy caring for adult children or frail parents. A friend with an incapacitated child came to mind and a neighbour with a severely disabled daughter who need 24/7 care. I said a prayer of thanks for the opportunity to care for my son while reminding myself of the hard stuff that so many people are grappling with.
It is perhaps my imagination, and perhaps this stage of life, but it seems there are more people carrying almost unbearable burdens than I have ever known. Perhaps we are still paying the price of the pandemic. In South Africa, our economic situation contributes to people’s loads. Loadshedding is just the cherry on top of the cake we’re carrying.
Noticing others’ burdens helps us to keep our own in perspective. It is nearly always possible to find someone who is facing a more difficult storm than you are currently. However, it’s not about minimising our own hardships or even trauma, it is about realising that we are not alone. There will be people who can empathise with you or help, even just to listen to your troubles.
Noticing others’ burdens and practically helping can give us purpose. Acts of kindness can include picking up someone else’s child from school or helping an elderly person with their online banking. Or giving a carer a break for an afternoon.
Generosity is not just needed by financially needy people. Practical generosity is one of the best ways to express gratitude for having resources (even just mental headspace) to help when others can’t see their way out. Each one of us will need this generosity at some point, and while we can, we’d do well to find meaning in handing it out.