It’s a Wednesday evening, and I’m talking to my mother. She is hundreds of miles away in Puebla, Mexico, as she winds down after a long day of chemotherapy and other painful treatments for her Multiple Sclerosis (MS). I know that she’s feeling lonely, fatigued, and weakened by the day’s events; yet, I can hear hope, strength, and (more intriguingly) excitement in her voice. As we talk about the minutiae of her day, she surprises me with something far from mundane.
Enthusiastically, she tells me that she’s read most of a book on parenting I recommended to her. She’s always been curious about my work as a counselor, and I felt that this book would give her some insight into what I do.
“It’s so you, and it’s all making sense now... the way you do and say certain things to help people.”
She goes on, mentioning that she feels inspired, and has been encouraged to use for herself skills taught in the book.
A couple of days before, she discovered that her live-in caregiver had worked three months straight, caring for my mom and others like her. During that time, she had not seen her family at all, and it would likely be another two months before she would have such an opportunity. My mom, deeply missing her own family after just two weeks in Mexico, was dismayed. Without hesitation, she insisted that her caregiver invite her family to the clinic residence for a complimentary dinner so that they could all eat and spend time together.
Her courage astonishes me. While my mom is kind and generous, she is typically very passive and modest in execution. “I’m not good at talking to people,” she’s been known to say. She rarely has friends over to the house, and almost never attends events or goes out on weekends. Instead, she spends much of her day researching about MS, gaining strength through daily exercise, and blogging to help encourage others who are battling the disease.
The severity of her MS no doubt makes socializing difficult. But, she had—without much thought!—invited over perfect strangers to share a meal and an evening together.
The next evening, her caregiver’s family made the long drive to Puebla. Mom described the pure joy on the faces of her new friends as they ate and reminisced with one another. There was even music! (Her caregiver’s father brought his guitar and played Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven”). As she shared her recollections, mom tells me that it was undeniably good to see them laugh and cry together, all as a family. It made her miss us even more, she admits, but “it was worth it.”
“It” likely refers to any feelings of discomfort and awkwardness, on top of fatigue and lingering pain from treatments that she had experienced while hosting. Still in awe of her courage, I ask her what was most memorable about this event. She says that what stuck out the most was the gratitude of the family, and how they found her invitation so unexpected. Strangely, my mom doesn’t see what was so remarkable about her act of kindness: she was just glad to help, even if in a small way.
Except, it wasn’t “small” to her caregiver and her family, nor is it “small” to my mother. She felt a sense of belonging and significance among these strangers, whom she now called friends. She took a risk, and it paid off in a life-affirming way: not only for her, but those around her.
Alfred Adler, an early 20th century psychiatrist, believed that all human behavior as well as mental health should be viewed through the social context of the individual. We are social beings, and the relationships created amongst us are what frame all thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Moreover, Adler also believed that concern for the well-being of others— or ‘social interest’—contributes to the adjustment and ultimately, the overall well-being, of individuals. In other words, healthy connectedness to others is the key to flourishing.
Mom ends her story of courage and kindness by saying, “it’s not so hard, this social interest thing!”
It’s not so hard.
Yet, it takes courage. It’s a challenge to be sensitive to the needs of others and to try and understand their perspectives. Our work at Travelers Rest Counseling Associates is simply this: to encourage the discouraged towards a sense of belonging and social interest. We want our clients to feel better, but for a purpose: to equip and energize our clients to care for and connect to those around them.