Opinion | Self-Sufficiency Is Overrated

My mother’s larger support system had kicked in by then. One of her closest friends from childhood had arrived to relieve us, and another was clamoring to swap in. We were glad. I was exhausted.

Becoming open again to the generosity of others offers a fresh way to see the world. Small kindnesses from friends and strangers suddenly feel outsize in their humanity. A man at the rental car agency chatting amiably with me makes me swell with good will, as does the gas station attendant who makes sure I buy exactly the right amount of fuel for when I return the car.

I want to hold onto this feeling of appreciation for a beat longer, to recognize how much more human I feel when I accept the plant seller’s offer to drop off the succulent I purchased at no extra charge, or when a friend shows up with an unexpectedly well-considered basket of vodka, chocolate and almonds.

And then there are the enormous kindnesses — the actress who donated her time to teach my daughter acting by video; another old friend who offered to lend us her house in Maine, and then insisted on taking us to her favorite beaches, a precious gift of space and beauty after a year locked away. The childhood friend who patiently stood in the ocean for an hour, putting my kids on a surfboard again and again.

There’s a reason most of us, normally, don’t live cut off from other people. We need others to support us in so many ways — for the teaching of our children, the growing of our food, the caring for our vulnerable. In my family that’s more profoundly evident than in others.

But it is clear that no one feels quite right these days. I ran into a high school classmate I hadn’t seen in a decade on the street; we both described a vague feeling of unease that we can’t seem to shake.

Maybe it would help to relinquish our hard-protected, false sense of self-sufficiency. I’m trying, in these vaccinated, brisk-but-not-terribly-cold days, to gratefully accept offerings from friends, family and strangers: a home-cooked dinner served outside, a house by the sea, a few minutes of unexpected conversation. I feel buoyed by a friend who unabashedly texts “I love you” every now and then, apropos of nothing.

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