Tonight, an older acquaintance took a tumble. How many mistakes I had made, leading to that tumble. Listening to her. Trusting her. Respecting her wishes.
She had insisted on walking down our hostess’s rather steep driveway in the dark on new, wobbly, low-heeled shoes – the kind that taper down, the kind I refuse to wear because I, 30 years her junior, don’t feel steady in them. I was right behind her (my third mistake) when she fell. The first mistake was not having driven up the driveway to collect her and the second, not insisting that she at least take my arm or let me walk in front of her. All of which I’d offered, and been refused.
After I’d gotten her to sit up, found her glasses and the missing lens, gotten a moist washcloth (her request) and a flashlight, helped her to her feet, and walked her down the rest of the driveway; after I manoeuvred her into my car, took her home, went up to her apartment, and been politely if summarily thanked and dismissed; after I’d phoned and then gone to see our evening’s hostess to reassure her, and come home; after all of that, after a (for me) stiff drink, hours later my stomach is still in knots.
As I left my acquaintance, I asked if she would phone her daughter. She said no, she’d clean up and go straight to bed. I asked if I should make that call, and she quickly repeated no. By the time I’d returned to our hostess’ home, I decided to insist that the daughter be called. If I’d had the number, I’d have done it myself. Why? Had it been my parent who’d fallen, I would want to know.
Yet I struggled with that decision.
Where does respect for another adult’s wishes stop and one’s own sensibilities take over?
One friend’s elderly parents routinely call him in the middle of the night or a holiday weekend, having let this or that niggling little condition get to emergency-room proportions, but they won’t move out of their house, even though he and his wife must clean for them, buy their food, make sure they eat it, shuttle them on errands and to appointments: these are people who cannot manage a large house and yard any more but refuse to move.
I certainly risk my acquaintance’s resentment for my going against her wishes. Certain grudges in my family have endured for years over far less. In a moment of weakness, I considered that, but it’s not about my being loved, or liked, or even spoken to ever again. It’s about doing the morally right thing, the thing that takes the whole other person into consideration, not just their wishes.
Did I do the “right” thing? I think so. When my stomach eventually unclenches, I’ll probably still think so. But. Will she think so?
How fragile we are, we bags of bone and gristle, how fragile, how proud, how tough and delicate.
How precious. How infinitely precious.
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