Years ago, I bought a used microwave. It was massive and heavy, so heavy that I couldn’t carry it by myself. I had to work out a schedule with a friend who could help me take it from my office to my apartment. It took several days of planning, canceling those plans, and then rescheduling.
Once the microwave was in my kitchen, I was complaining to another friend about all the hassle involved. “Next time,” she said, “don’t buy a microwave you can’t carry.”
At the time, I was quite annoyed with her lack of compassion. But as time passed, I realized there was a basic wisdom to her words that went beyond microwaves.
Now I’m not arguing against needing help every so often. We all do, but we can sometimes get so used to asking for help, we forget that we can solve many problems for ourselves. In fact, I hypothesize one of our society’s ills is that of learned helplessness, in which we’re always looking for rescuers.
I know of what I speak. In general, my preference is to be rescued. If there’s a mouse in my kitchen, I want someone to come kill it. If I happen to kill it in a trap myself, I’d like someone to come dispose of it. If my car needs fixing, I’d really like someone else to take it in to the mechanic. And the list goes on and on.
But fate often puts us in a position of not getting our preferences. So, like it or not and usually not liking it, I learned a little self-reliance. Perhaps the key moment came when I totaled my car about 800 miles from home. Alone in a strange town, I learned which grocery stores were within walking distance and how to judge how many groceries I could carry in my backpack. I did the same with a laundromat. And I managed to buy a new car, so I could get home at the end of the summer. (It certainly does narrow down the purchasing decision when you have to buy a car within walking distance of your apartment.)
There is something to be said for self-reliance. Although, as a good English major, I’d read Emerson’s essay, it wasn’t until self-reliance was forced upon me that I truly appreciated it. I don’t particularly ever want to be alone and friendless, but it’s nice to know that, dealing with reasonable problems of daily life, I can take care of myself.
And, yes, I carried my most recent microwave into the house by myself.