I have, on more than one occasion, written about how difficult it can be to ask for help, or even accept help when it is offered. The challenge, as I have experienced it, is that to ask for or to accept assistance demands that the recipient expose their vulnerability. On paper, that seems pi easy. We ask for relief in all sorts of ways: Would you hand me that wrench? Can you pick up some milk on the way home? I’m busy cleaning the cat box; can you check the chicken in the oven? But those don’t require any real vulnerability. Why? Because we are almost certainly capable of doing each of those tasks. It’s when we ask for something we are unable to do for ourselves at that time that we must expose our dependence others.
In my personal history, these moments only come when you’re hard against a challenge—a kid in the hospital, too broke to make rent, too banged up from a crash to cook for yourself. It’s at times like that showing any weakness betrays just how vulnerable you are and dices, then juliennes your ego into yard clippings.
Trust me, I am an authority on both ego and yard clippings; I’m not exactly a fan of either.
While we’re on the subject of things I don’t like, I’ll just go ahead and admit that not only do I not like asking for aid, I don’t like asking for charity. Asking for help on behalf of others carries with it the risk of multiplication, that once you have asked to support one good cause, every other deserving cause on the planet will ask you to ask for relief on their behalf. And why wouldn’t they? Because I hate asking for relief—full stop—I not only avoid asking for assistance for myself, I foreswear doing it for anyone else simply because I fear getting caught in a never-ending cycle of doing it for others.
As regular readers of RKP know, I set this aside recently, following the fires that hit the North Bay.
The outpouring of support has been utterly humbling. I’ve received dozens of boxes—more than two dozen so far. I’m on good terms with my UPS and FedEx guys, but I’ve never seen so much of them as I have in the month of November. I’ve received boxes big enough to hold a dorm fridge. I’ve received boxes the size of a family-size cereal box that were dense as a neutron star inside. One reader sent me an assortment of the coolest wool jerseys, some I’d kill for. I consider their presence a test of my ethics. There’s a flipping’ Mapei cap. No one has taken it yet. There are two wool mutts. Someone sent some 7Mesh bibs. For real? Another reader decried the state of his clothing, denouncing it as unfit for gifting and instead placed an order with Sierra Trading Post and sent me a bunch of brand new stuff on closeout, a genius charitable spend if ever there was one.
The industry has been tremendous as well. We received brand new gear from Mark Ritz and Kinetic Koffee, not to mention brand new helmets from Ritz’ employer, Bell, and Kali Protectives. It was Pat McKay, the marketing director for Kali, who got in touch with me before the fires were even remotely under control to ask me what they could do. Kali would go on to provide helmets for every kid to whom Specialized gave a bike in the wake of the fires. Watching those bikes get matched up to the kids who had applied for them was oddly cathartic for me. I’m sure it was cathartic for others, though not oddly so.
Word has spread gradually but steadily in our local community that I have clothing to provide riders who lost everything. I can verify that every person who has visited me, nearly 30 so far, has lost everything. A few managed to save a bike or two, but most lost all their bikes. They lost homes they had, in some cases, lived in for more than 20 years. They lost a lifetime of photos, all their bikes, cool collectible cars, the ashes of family members. The losses are so great they are hard to process.
When people arrive here, I have a spiel I take them through. I tell them that all the stuff I have (which fills much of a garage bay not covered by my lease), needs to go away, and soon. I tell them they can’t take just one kit. I tell them that if they like something, and it seems to fit, to take it. Most visits finish with tears in eyes, followed by hugs. I do all I can to stress how this should be one completely pleasurable and guilt-free experience in the wake of the fires.
The expressions of gratitude are an awkward thing to receive. In my view, they aren’t meant for me. In this experience I’m an agent of others. The gratitude is due to you readers who have sent boxes. I’m nothing more than the interface. As a result, I’m experiencing something just as awkward as when I ask for help. I don’t feel like I’m the guy who deserves to be told thank you. People keep telling me, “This is a wonderful thing you’re doing.”
Maybe so. While the logic doesn’t hold, I do what I can to insist that if my friends’ lives haven’t gone back to normal, I’m not comfortable having my life go back to norma. And honestly, it hasn’t. I’m behind on reviews, on invoicing, on a feature for another publication. I’ve begun trying to coordinate visits, so that I have two or three people show up at the same time, rather than three people over successive hours. But an efficient use of my time is tater tots in the grand scheme.
None of this would be possible without you, dear readers. Any time someone wants to deride cyclists as too uptight, too self-righteous, too selfish, I point to you to show that teh Interwebz can be different, that not everyone is a troll.
If ever there was a Thanksgiving when I needed to express my gratitude to you, the readers of RKP, this is it. Thank you.
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