Helping friends and family is part of everyday life. Helping neighbors in our local communities or people on the other side of the world is what makes most humans, well, humane. Whenever I help out a friend or neighbor it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. I believe sharing my story of living with Multiple Sclerosis as I cross the country is helping others with chronic illness get through their life as well. Being able to help others brings me joy and makes everything I am sacrificing worthwhile.
Asking for help isn’t quite as simple. When many of us need help, it’s often hard to ask for it, because it can make us feel inadequate or make us feel like we have somehow failed. When someone offers to help me, I am usually quick to decline without really giving thought to the mutual benefits of accepting the assistance. It usually isn’t until later that I realize I could have really used the help and I was a stubborn idiot for turning down such a gracious and sincere offer.
I must be getting wiser with age, because twice over the last couple of months, I found myself both asking for, and needing help from strangers. Both times, I was GLAD I did!
The first example was on a cold November morning. I was a couple hundred miles into a 1200 mile ride home from a motorcycle rally. I stopped at a gas station to swap gloves as the temperature was finally above freezing. I carefully placed my favorite and most expensive pair of gloves on top of the duffle bag strapped to my passenger seat as I removed the second pair of gloves from my saddlebag. I got gas and drove off forgetting to pack the first pair of gloves away. About 15 minutes later I had a sinking gut feeling that I forgot to do something at the last stop. Reaching back behind me I felt around and sure enough, I found a single glove. I pulled over to search the back of the bike, hoping it had lodged itself somewhere, but Lefty was nowhere to be found.
I looked at the GPS and realized I had ridden at least ten miles. Backtracking, then looking for the glove on the side of the freeway was going to add an hour or two to what was already an 18 hour day. I decided losing the glove was the consequence of being sloppy. As the gloves were expensive, I decided I would not be replacing them and I would have to just live with my mistake. Over the next 800 miles however, I felt remorse and regret that I had not retraced my ride to look for the lost, all-time favorite glove. It also dawned on me that losing one glove wasn’t just a $150 screw-up, it was really a $300 mistake as I couldn’t replace just the one glove! I then convinced myself I deserved to have winter gloves that fit properly and decided I would order another pair when I got home. After all, I do ride a motorcycle for a living so it was a write-off and having great handmade gloves that fit- well, like a glove, was important. The day after I got home I went online to order a new pair and found the small glove company had gone out of business! I scoured Ebay and Craigslist for used replacements as well, but found nothing. I carried the right glove around the house like a security blanket, wondering what I was going to do with it.
Half jokingly, I decided to post my sad story of losing my favorite glove on Facebook. I asked for help locating my best friend ‘Lefty’. I posted the route I took and a ten mile stretch of interstate between Alabama and Georgia where I thought it might have fallen off the bike. The post got some great sympathetic comments as well as a mix of stories of favorite gloves lost!
Less than an hour after my post, a gentleman I never met, posted that he found my glove on the side of the road in perfect condition and would put in the mail that evening! Someone actually left work early and rode to the exact area and searched along the highway for a small black lump to help a complete stranger! Many other riders had posted that they were on their way to the area to help as well!
My second need for help was in March, as I was heading down to Bike Week in Daytona. Because of the amount of miles I ride, I have an auxiliary fuel tank on the bike. I also pay close attention to my fuel consumption, balancing my speed and distance to minimize stops each day. I constantly do the arithmetic in my head to know what I am averaging for fuel mileage. One thing I never do is push my bike in the red because, I don’t like to, push my bike!
Not sure why it happened. I regularly get over 40 miles after hitting the blinking low fuel light. I used my GPS to locate my 6th gas stop of the day at a Love’s truck stop 30 miles away. I went 29 miles before running out of gas! Despite it being 85 degrees in Georgia, I was still wearing my thermals and heated gear from the chilly start in New Jersey that morning. Overheated, I couldn’t even remember the name of my towing service. I needed help. I watched hundreds of trailers hauling bikes to Daytona pass by me, but no one stopped. Dozens of bikes wizzed right past me without even looking at me on the side the freeway. My tow service app showed a 2 hour wait for gas to be delivered. I contemplated pushing my bike the mile or so to the station, knowing I would be beyond exhausted and would be risking getting rundown in the breakdown lane the entire slow walk. I accepted that I was in for a long wait as the temperature continued to rise. As I was starting to remove my boots and riding pants to get out of my long johns, a white Volkswagen pulled in behind my Yamaha and the driver quickly got out and asked me if I needed help.
“I ride motorbikes as well, and have run out of gas plenty myself. Can I go get you some gas?”
My brain screamed, “Hell, YES”, but my idiot mouth said, “Thanks for stopping, but I have my tow service coming with fuel in a couple hours.”
“That’s ridiculous. I’ll be right back with some gas.”
Ten minutes later, my new friend returned as promised with two gallons of fuel in a brand new fuel jug he had to buy and refused to take a penny from me. We chatted briefly while I repeatedly begged him to take my money, but he refused, leaving with a handshake and one of my Chasing the Cure calendars.
“I’m really glad I was able to help you. You would do the same for me, right? Please just pass it on. Help someone else.”
As I travel the country, I have benefitted from the generosity of strangers just like these examples many, many times. In fact, reading through some of my older stories, I found most of my greatest adventures involve breaking down, bad weather or failing to reach some destination. I also realize that most of these situations would have been very different if not for the help of others.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength. It takes strength to recognize and accept we can’t do everything ourselves or that we are overwhelmed and need some support. Family, friends and coworkers are all eager to help us, we just need to accept it or ask for it.
Living with a chronic illness presents many unforeseen circumstances that simply require help from others. It may be physical help with chores or moving furniture. It might be financial help navigating medical expenses brought on by an unpredictable disease. It may be as simple as a ride to the pharmacy, or help watching the kids because our fatigue has worn us to the bone. Whether it be a gallon or gas or help finding a favorite glove, it is important for us all to remember that HELP is not a four letter word and we shouldn’t be afraid to ask for it.