Good Deeds Going Awry

It’s really a joy being part of a community. I’ve had a bad cough the past week, and in the past few days, more people brought me soup and crackers or offered to run errands than in all the time I was housebound with my mangled arm.

I’m not worried about paying the favors back or fore (I know the common phrase is “pay it forward,” but that terminology only works if one also says “pay it backward,” and we don’t.) When people need help that I can give, I will do so — it’s all about being part of the community.

Or is it?

I recently watched the movie Pay it Forward. (If you haven’t seen the flick and want to, don’t read ahead. Major spoiler!!)

The movie is about a kid who gets the idea of doing good for people and then having them pay it fore rather than back. As a concept, it’s kind of cool, as long as the person who did you the favor knows you’re going to pay it to someone else rather than to them. (Not that we do favors for others expecting to be paid back, but it is nice when they in turn do favors for us — it helps cement the community bond.)

The kid ends up dead (he tried to rescue a friend from bullies, and got knifed). The finale of the movie shows hundreds of people coming to the house bearing flowers and candles. What was supposed to be a tear-jerking moment, showing all the people whose lives the kid had touched, just made me shake my head. There is no way such a display could bring more than a momentary comfort to the mother. In the cold light of day (and the dark of night), she would rather have her son than this evidence of his impact.

I also had to shake my head at this proof of the old adage: no good deed goes unpunished.

The movie reminded me of a CSI show in which Grissom told a story about a guy who found a spider swimming in his toilet. For a couple of mornings, the guy watched the spider struggling to survive the maelstrom of flushing. One morning, the guy decided to rescue the spider. He took it out of the water and set it on the floor. The next day, he found the spider dead. “Why,” Grissom asked, “did the spider die? Because one life impinged on another.”

Yep. No good deed goes unpunished. In the movie, the doer died, in the show, the do-ee did. Generally, no one dies after doing good deeds, but occasionally, as in these examples, the good deed backfires. Sometimes the favor leads to demands and expectations, and when those expectations aren’t met, the benefactor is seen as an evil-doer rather than a do-gooder. Other times the punishment is benign: people resent the interference or are simply ungrateful.

Come to think of it, the destruction of my arm that I mentioned above is another example of a good deed being punished — if I had stood my ground and not done the dance performance as I wished, I’d still have a perfect arm, but because I did a good deed (performed in place of someone who couldn’t make it) I have a humpty-dumpty arm.

I just hope no one is going to be punished for bringing me soup and crackers. I certainly appreciate the favor, don’t resent it, won’t expect more than what was offered.

I’ll pay the favors both fore and aft.

And I’ll hope that none of our good deeds go awry and that we all survive intact.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of Grief: The Inside Story – A Guide to Surviving the Loss of a Loved One. “Grief: The Inside Story is perfect and that is not hyperbole! It is exactly what folk who are grieving need to read.” –Leesa Healy, RN, GDAS GDAT, Emotional/Mental Health Therapist & Educator.

Everything Passes

I had a moment of discouragement today. It didn’t last long — moments by definition don’t last long —but in that moment, I totally lost heart.

This should have been a good day. I had my post-op doctor’s appointment to get the final bandages off my arm, and I was actually feeling pretty good until I saw my arm unadorned — no fixator, no bandages, just me. I knew the arm was deformed but had never actually seen what it was going to look like, and the misshapenness shocked me. My wrist and arm were unfamiliar as the back of my hand, or even the front of my hand. (All the bones of my hand were squished together in the fall, and they were never able to be put back where they should’ve been.) I don’t suppose other people would notice the deformity, especially at a casual glance, but it is quite pronounced.

People keep telling me to look on the bright side. That at least I still have an arm. That other people have it worse. That up until now I have been lucky. I understand what they’re saying, but it doesn’t really help. Once you start comparing yourself to other people (some do have it worse, but others have it better) or to what was or might have been, self-pity is not far behind. And self-pity is a deformity of its own.

Besides, today is about me. What happened to me. And it seems as if being disheartened for a moment, or even two, is a perfectly sensible reaction.

Still, when people aren’t trying to be encouraging (and succeeding only in making me feel bad), I’m okay because the truth is it could have been worse, a lot worse. And up until now I have been lucky. I’ve never been particularly beautiful, and I carry some extra weight, but in its own way, my body has been perfect. And now it’s not.

As the surgeon said, however, it’s not how the arm looks but how it works. He was quite impressed with the mobility I have managed to regain in my fingers. (I can almost make a fist.) I only did what he told me to do, which was work my fingers whenever I got a moment, and I will apply that same diligence to my wrist. This is the long haul now. He says even the most simple hairline fracture of the wrist takes a year to gain the maximum possible mobility, and my injury (injuries, actually) was 1000 times worse than that. So I’ll try not to be discouraged for two years, at which point I will know what I have to live with, and will probably even be used to it.

Although several people have told me to make sure I demand physical therapy, the surgeon said there’s no point in going to physical therapy yet, that it’s better to wait until I get some mobility, otherwise the therapist would just sit me in a corner and have me work the wrist. And that I can do now. He will reassess in three months. Until then I am on my own. He did offer suggestions, such as massaging the scar tissue because the extensive scar tissue is impeding some of the motion. And he suggested water therapy: A large sponge in a bucket of warm water. Reach the hand in the bucket of water and squeeze the sponge letting the water run down the arm. Sounds therapeutic, doesn’t it? Almost pleasant.

When I stand outside myself and don’t let myself get involved in the emotion of the injury, I find the whole thing both interesting and challenging. But you can’t live outside yourself. And in myself I feel . . . so many aches and pains and emotions.

But one way or another, everything passes, and so will all of this.

***

(Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.”) Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.