I gave up asking a long time ago. To explain: my daddy liked to recall a particular incident, one of many that happened when I was about eight or so. We were visiting family in Appalachia and there abouts -- he was born and raised in Barboursville, Kentucky. My cousin, Patty, was with us on that trip. We had driven from Detroit to and through the Smokey Mountains and back again one summer; I loved every moment.
At some time during our vacation, daddy took us to a beach where we could enjoy the water and have a picnic afterwards. I believe, we were in North Carolina by that time or maybe it was West Virginia – the family was up the mountains and down into the valleys and all around those parts for a few weeks. With pride, daddy showed off that vast land, which he loved more than life itself. It was an afternoon of splashing around in the water when Daddy instructed Patty to show me how to swim. Patty was a pretty, chubby little girl with long, thick, wavy hair – Indian hair my mother called it. I, on the other hand, was short, skinny, and seriously afraid to get my hair wet --- you’d be too if you had to sit upright and perfectly still in your mother’s kitchen with a hot iron sizzling and crackling overhead as your hair was pressed smooth, strand by strand. Nappy hair was a dreaded consequence back then of rain showers, water balloon fights, humid summer nights, settling back in the bathtub, and swimming. So I don’t know it was the water or the fact that she was doing it all wrong – of course she was doing it all wrong, I’d had a lesson or two earlier that summer, and I just knew, Besides, I hadn’t asked her, not that I couldn’t or didn’t know how; it never dawned on me to ask. I was fine; this was my daddy’s big idea – and my hair was already wet around the edges and moisture was seeping up under my water-proof swimming cap with every splash and dunk. It was then that I stopped playing around and explained to Patty, in no uncertain terms, how to teach me to swim.
Daddy stood nearby in the water only up to his ankles laughing as my mother prepared lunch far away from the water’s edge. Mother told me later he had said that he knew I’d be all right in life and stated something like, “that girl is gonna be all right, we don’t have to worry about her.” “She can’t swim a lick, but she sure can tell somebody how to and how not to!” He got that right – and I’ve also come to realize why I became a woman, who tells – and yes, asks only when necessary. It was not a matter of being “bossy” or an issue of control; it was about having received permission to be myself, early on. I was often congratulated, expected to step forward when it came to matters of self, of self interest. I was given this gift from both my parents.
Then there is the matter of the community that helped nurture me. Back when, there were two kinds of girls out there: weak and strong -or- big and little. I was tiny in stature but I was a “big” girl, who wanted to grow up like the women all around me, strong women. The girls and women, who acted first and asked (maybe) later, were common place for me and mine. The women, who I knew, were strong willed, determined know-it-alls, who could and would tell you everything you needed to know whether or not you needed that information. It was later, much later that I learned: we “tellers” can be a big pain in the butt! I have also discovered that telling can be a disguise for a fear of being thought less rather than more. It can be a cover-up lest our insecurities and our “little girl” within be known by all. Better wrong, dead wrong than weak is the motto here. Better a big girl pain-in-the-you-know-what than a little girl wimp.
Asking is an art form -- is humbling, where I come from. It’s something one did in stillness with the Lord, mainly …”give us this day our daily bread….” But now, as a New Thought Christian, even the Lord gets instructions – daily bread is no longer a request, it is a statement, it is a sure thing. Mercy, me!
So while I think of myself as a big girl, a strong woman, if not a strong-willed woman, I have come with time to better understand the measure of this woman. Not unlike those beautiful hills of Kentucky, I have gone up my mountain and back down again to dwelled in the valley below. I care about those who grace my life, and I have come to learn that I know no more and no less than anyone else – and still unafraid to tell you so; I may understand it differently is all. It is only now that I ask more and tell less. I ask out of caring; I ask out of respect; I ask out of knowing that I don’t know – and that maybe one day I will get to that place of Knowing. Yet, I believe that should I arrive at that place, I won’t need to tell and I won’t need to ask because, I won’t need. Now won’t that be lovely?
But until then, I will continue to ask for directions, about the price of things, about your day, for the time, for an occasional day of peace and quiet, and for help when it is clear I can’t get it all done alone. And most importantly, I will try and remember to ask those nearest and dearest, if it is okay for me to be a pain in the butt – once in awhile.