We Can’t Save People and We Can’t Fix Them Either
Because it’s not our job and not our fight
When I was a little kid, used to do this weird thing. I would stand at the bathroom sink and run water slowly into my cupped hands. I’d hold my hands together as tightly as I possibly could so that this basin I created was impenetrable.
It never worked. Water always got out. But I kept coming back and trying time and time again. There’s a lesson to be learned there that took me far too long to figure out.
People are not unlike the water. You can’t save people any more than you can hold all the water. People slip out, too.
When I did my student teaching I had this lovely young lady in my class. She was smart and kind and beautiful. Athletic and prom court royalty. She also had a wicked eating disorder.
She would come down to the community center that I worked at after school and on the weekends. She trained in the weight room with a friend of mine. We knew she had issues. If we could work on a healthy self image with her, perhaps she would see herself as beautiful as we did.
During my first actual teaching job I had former classmate of hers come to the school where I now worked. He asked me if I’d heard about her. I said no, how was she doing?
He told me that she had passed away the month before. The eating disorder got the best of her and her body gave out. She died of a heart attack at 18.
I couldn’t save her. No one could. But at the end of the day after all students had left my room, I sat down and I cried. And I pictured myself as a little girl standing in the bathroom trying to hold water in my hands. She was a drop of water that had escaped from me.
She was the first but she wouldn’t be the last. Teaching high school broke my heart because after this first loss, I feared the loss of so many more students. I wanted to save every single one of them. Every broken kid. Every lost soul. Every forlorn face I took on as my own.
I taught creative writing so they had a voice through which they would be able to heal themselves and to move past the hurt.
There was always fixing involved. I was willing to save and to fix because I believe in the inherent good in people, even when I shouldn’t.
This pattern of behavior lasted for nearly two decades with me. It all came to an abrupt halt the day I divorced my second husband.
I couldn’t fix him. I spent almost nine years trying. He never wanted to fix himself and he had resigned himself that he just was the way he was and he would never get better. It was bullshit.
Two months after our divorce I met a woman who is now a dear friend of mine. She was broken and in desperate need of fixing.
Our circle of friends realized we had become close and I think a lot of people thought perhaps I could fix her. I never wanted to. I wasn’t my job. It was hers.
The best thing that we can do for folks who we can’t and shouldn’t save is to help them save themselves. This is where our real effort should go. It’s time well spent and love worth giving.
There are times that even this is an exercise in futility. To continue to walk down that path, even if only alongside someone, leads you to stumbling on your feet.
I can’t carry the burden of other peoples joy or sadness.
I find it incredibly difficult to walk away from people who can’t help themselves but it’s the sanest thing for me to do for my own mental health.
It feels so painful to give up on someone but it makes sense when it was never your fight to begin with. We could lose our minds over the ones that slip through our hands. And we simply can’t hold our hands that tightly together.