It is monday night and I’m currently sitting in a sonic drive-in parking spot, not ordering or eating delicious ice cream creations, but instead waiting for my car to cool off. My hood is up because it started to overheat and turning the heater on as soon as I saw the smoke rising up did diddly squat so I pulled in here and parked. (I have since learned that turning the A/C on so the fans go is more efficient). I was heading to the coffee shop to write the blog post for tomorrow and some other writing work.

But instead, I’ve been here for about 45 minutes now. The whole ordeal has reminded me about one of my shortcomings that I’m grateful life forces me to practice bettering: accepting help.

Sometimes I’m bad about accepting help, and but I’m always bad about asking for it.

I’ve always been this way. I mean, I’ll ask for help if it’s convenient and there’s someone right there and it’s truly easier. The problem is, often someone is not right there and it actually requires asking for something from someone. A sacrifice. Or, in my mind, a debt. And I have a bookie heart and a bookie mind and I want to make sure that I always have a positive balance in the debt scale.

I’m like Switzerland in that way. When I studied abroad there at a small international school, someone said something about that Swiss way once.

They said each country could be summed up in one word. And if Switzerland had one most important word, it would be security (or self-sufficiency). They help other countries out, sure, but they don’t depend on anyone but themselves. They’re neutral, and if everything goes to crap, they’ll be unaffected because they have no stake for their survival on anyone else’s claims.

I heard that and I thought: That’s me. I’m Switzerland. I loan people money but don’t often borrow. I love helping people out and offer my help freely, but when it comes to my own tasks I do them alone or at least figure them out myself.

I’m capable in lots of ways, and the ways I’m ignorant have now been limited even further by my having a computer in my pocket at all times allowing me to google things like “My car is overheating, what should I do?” Which is what I was about to do after I’d opened the hood, seen something leaking from underneath my car, and then checked my oil levels (because those are about the only things I know how to do under the hood of a car).

But right then as I was finishing checking my oil and thus concluding the steps I knew to take, a car pulled up next to me and this sweet couple my parent’s age asked if I needed help. I told them what I knew of what was happening and the man says, “do you mind if I take a look?”

Do I mind? Do I mind if you help me? 

His phrasing made it seem like I was the one being asked of, not him. I immediately accepted his offer to help because I was in a realm where really either my phone or a person would need to tell me what else to do, and it might as well be the person with knowledge standing there right with me in the steam of my hot hot car.

I grew up spending a lot of time on the sides of roads with broken down cars waiting for someone who might stop and then go call a tow truck for us because cell phones weren’t big yet. Then luckily came the days when cell phones became more popular — we didn’t have any yet, but some people did, and we’d just have to wait for one of those people to stop and call for us. Then came the days where my mom did get a cell phone, and we just had to wait for the tow truck to get there.

Slowly our time spent waiting for help got less and less, and then eventually my parents bought newer cars that didn’t break down every week which was really a wonderful change of pace.

But what I learned on the sides of those roads was that sometimes, (especially with cars breaking down), it’s not only that you HAVE to ask for help… it’s that you don’t even really get to ask most times. You’re at the mercy of those around you who see your implicit need for help and stop to assist.

Now, with cell phones, a lot less people stop to help, because we assume we can all help ourselves. If you’re not calling your own tow truck, you’re looking up “my car is overheating what do I do?” on your smart phone. Our phones have increased our Swissness.

Luckily I live in the midwest now, and the Swiss self-sufficiency mentality hasn’t saturated the place yet, so I was still lucky enough to have people stop to help and force me to get out of my Swiss comfort zone in a good way.

Usually when I am in a bind, I take care of it alone and quietly. I usually won’t even mention it to people later, I just figure it out and move on. Take it in stride, as they say. But, while I’m not glad my car is overheating, it’s good for me to practice being dependent on the help of others sometimes. And there’s nothing like a hood popped up on a car at a Sonic Drive-In at night in Kansas with a young woman behind the wheel to say to the world around me “Hey, hey guys. I might be in a bind. I might need a little help.”

Now if only I’d practice that at other times, too, I might be on to something.

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Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

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