I used to be Amazonian. Before giving myself time to even think it through, I used to mount my white charger, standards blazing, and go tearing into the fray, my good intentions a shield at my side and my determination to help a gleaming sword in my hand. In other words, I liked to fix things for people. A lot.
It was reflexive. I was the oldest child, and with that, generally, comes an implicit expectation and responsibility for your younger siblings. I always like to joke that I had the misfortune to be saddled with a sister who didn’t know when to shut her mouth, and a brother who wouldn’t open his, and so I became the Valkyrie of the back of the bus, sweeping in to save them from themselves (whether they needed it or not).
This picture of me is somewhat misleading, though. I brought a book with me where ever I went. Each bus ride found me curled up in the seat, absorbed in the adventures of whomever I was currently journeying along with……until I heard trouble. I’d pop up, put the kibosh on it, and sit back down, knowing that once I ended it, it was ended.
The trouble was, I didn’t stop charging in once our bus riding days were over. And I carried that behavior into other relationships with friends and significant others. It’s one thing to bail your sib out of trouble when they’re getting hassled on the bus (or when they’re hassling someone else…). It is entirely another when you grow up and get older and the problems we face grow in proportion and magnitude. My do-gooder ways were not helping me, or anyone else, ironically enough. I took too much of it on, and invested too much time, energy, and emotion in other people’s stuff. And, every time I charged in, with an “I know just what you should do” and a dose of determination, it told them that I didn’t think they had the chops to handle their own stuff….which wasn’t true, and didn’t serve them, either.
And so, I decided to stop…with varying degrees of success. There are still some days where it takes a deliberate and conscious force of will to say, “You know what to do. You’ve got this handled, and I know that you’re going to be just fine,” instead of offering them a plan of action and a way to move through it. I can feel myself stop my tongue in its tracks before it can get away from me and offer help to someone who doesn’t need it. I can feel myself reminding me why I can’t let myself get so involved, why I can’t take on others’ worries, why this hasn’t worked out so well for anyone in the past.
Other days, it’s easier to remember why I decided to hang up that shield and sword for everyday use. Why I decided to keep them around for special occasions, for the times when it might be necessary to pull ‘em out and put ‘em on and go charging in. I’ve seen what happens when I just offer an ear and a word of encouragement, instead of a plan of attack and a strong sword arm – they are just fine. They figure it out and make choices and they are just fine without me charging in. Or they’re not, and they learn from it, so that next time, they will be fine.
I wouldn’t say that I’ve got this totally in the bag. I’ll probably fight this impulse on and off throughout my life. That’s okay, though – the desire to help, to be of service is a part of who I am, and it’s not an altogether bad thing when channeled into the appropriate avenues.
Sweeping in from the wings to save people from themselves only sets you up to be their savior from here on out. Once they see that you’re doing it for them, they don’t do it for themselves. It’s human nature to take the easiest road (so how’d I get to be such a freaking anomaly, hunh?). I’m learning that it’s far more satisfying to stand back and watch the people I love triumph on their own, to watch them hammer out their own sword and shield and fling themselves into the fray of their own lives with a glory that I couldn’t have dreamt of for them.
In the meanwhile, I’m learning to keep that Amazonian energy for myself. To channel that fire and passion into my own life, to change my own landscape, to build my own empires. To use that sword to cut away what no longer serves me, and that shield to shelter me from the crapstorms life flings my way. To be my own champion, first.