Okay, this isn’t my typical environmental tip for helping out the planet. Instead, it’s a reminder to myself not to expend energy on people who don’t want/need my help.
I met and befriended an elderly man, R, who comes to the spaghetti dinner I help with each Monday. He’s in his late seventies and lives alone in the house he shared with his parents until they died. R is a hoarder and won’t let me into his house. Over the past couple years I’ve arranged for plumbers to go to his house to make repairs and they were so upset about his living conditions they called me back and begged me to call social services. I didn’t because I knew any intervention would send R into a panic. He’d rather live the way he is than have anyone interfere with his independence. I’ve tried hard to respect his decisions.
I last saw R a month ago when he came to the dinner and told me about his health problems. R is frighteningly thin and in very poor health but refuses my offers to take him to the doctor. He refused again that night, and I had to respect his decision. Over the next several weeks, I called his home but never got an answer. Since R doesn’t spend much time at home (it makes him anxious so he takes the bus downtown and doesn’t return until the night), I convinced myself he wasn’t home when I called and that nothing was wrong.
This morning the director of the spaghetti dinner let me know other people were starting to worry about R, too, and that maybe we should drive over there since he hadn’t shown up on Monday. I said I’d take care of it. I called R’s house about ten times throughout the morning but he never answered.
I told myself I should drive over there but I couldn’t bear to discover my worst fear.
Instead, I called the police. Ten minutes later the officer called me back to tell me R was in his house, angry about the police being there, and would I please come down.
I drove to R’s house where R berated me, over and over, for calling the police. Over and over I explained my worry, the worry of other volunteers, and apologized for frightening him.
Still, R thought it was necessary to start in on me one more time. This time I cut him short. I said, “I told you I was worried, I told you I was sorry, and I told you it wouldn’t happen again.” I also said I hoped he felt better, and then got in my car and drove away.
We all make choices. I’ve made mine and R has made his, and now that he’s been crystal clear about my role in his choices, I know what I’ll choose in the future.
I’m smart enough to know that choice won’t be any easier, though.