Good Intentions Gone Bad

roadIn this world, there are people who are very good at helping others. They are the first ones into burning buildings. They carry supplies to cities devastated by floods, countries decimated by earthquakes, islands deluged by tsunamis. They drive Miss Daisy.

I’m not one of those people. Not that I don’t want to help, I do. It’s just that my efforts rarely work out as anticipated.

Sometimes, good intentions aren’t enough. Sometimes, really good ideas yield really bad results. Look closely at the paving on the Good Intentions Roadway; you’ll see my handiwork. Some people believe it’s the thought that counts. I say, think again.

An early attempt to help

robin egg On my way home from middle school one day, I found an robin’s egg. Picking up that small, delicate, blue oval, I thought of the little life within. Abandoned by its mother bird, what chance of survival could it possibly have? Well, I decided, it had me.Cradling it carefully in my palm, I brought it home. I knew it needed warmth. I also knew my mother would have fits if she saw it. So I carried my little egg to my bedroom, settled on the bed and held it, enjoying it’s smoothness and beauty even as I willed it to survive.

Of course, I did have assignments to do; middle school carried its own responsibilities. And, frankly, it was boring to sit there holding an egg. Hmmm… perhaps I hadn’t thought this through. Finally, though, I hit on a solution that would allow me to keep my little charge warm and still free up my hands for homework.

Carefully, I placed the tiny egg into my bra, nestled into my somewhat meager cleavage. I worked diligently to complete my work and finally, it was finished.

I breathed a deep sigh of relief…

They say it’s the thought that counts…

Efforts to help family members haven’t been noticeably more successful than my little egg fiasco. When my father-in-law was losing his sight to macular degeneration, I combed the Internet looking for aids to ease his daily life. It saddened me that a man so self-reliant could no longer even pay a bill unassisted. So I was thrilled to find a product designed to enable people with limited sight to write checks. This little sheet of semi-rigid plastic had three rectangular cut-out areas that, when placed over a check, corresponded to the signature, date, and amount lines. My father-in-law was very pleased with the gift (one point for me!), which did allow him to resume check writing. What it did not do was provide a way to record transactions in the register. It turned out that writing checks he couldn’t later account for was not really helpful.

watchNot discouraged by this setback, I continued my search. He liked to watch/listen to his TV shows and still enjoyed listening to his CDs. So I was excited to find a voice-activated remote control that would enable him to operate both units with no need to fumble for the right buttons. Perfect. I ordered it immediately.

My joy at finding such a useful gadget was especially keen after the previous year’s episode of the talking watch. That watch did “tell” time, reciting the hour in a heavily-accented female voice that he occasionally was able to understand. Although the instructions were in Chinese, it only took his four handy sons a few hours to figure out how to set the correct time. Unfortunately, my in-laws spent half the year in California and the other half in Florida. Different time zones. So in Florida, the watch no longer gave the correct time. Naturally, my mother-in-law was not able to pierce the mystery of resetting it. My father-in-law probably could have figured it out if he’d been able to see the watch. But of course, if he had been so abled he wouldn’t have needed it.

Redemption?

remoteThe voice-activated remote control, therefore, was my chance to redeem myself.

Have you ever encountered one of these gadgets? Like all good little robotic assistants, they serve a single master and are designed to obey one voice. The product description on the website for the visually impaired stated this clearly, but neglected to mention that the owner would have to “train” the remote by speaking aloud preselected text. Thoughtfully provided was a 100-page booklet in very small type from which my father-in-law would have to read so the remote could learn the nuances of his pronunciation. There followed an annoying and unsuccessful effort to have someone recite the training material sotto voce for him to repeat aloud.

Needless to say, the remote control did not bring the desired redemption. Another petal to add to my growing potpourri of failed efforts.

And then there was the time…

My attempts to help have not been confined to the family circle. Years ago, my sister and I went to New York for a doll convention. We traversed the huge exhibit hall until, legs rubbery and feet numb, we returned to the hotel to order room service and peruse our catalogs.

handmoneyThe next day, we decided to check out the small corner bookstore near Penn Station. As we approached the building, I noticed a man standing just outside the entrance. Deep lines etched his face into a mask of sadness; his dark eyes seemed full of despair. At his feet was a large shopping bag from which a rolled-up garment protruded, concealing the rest of its contents.

Without hesitation, I removed some bills from my purse. Holding them out to him, I said, “Here. Please take this.”

He stared at me and at the money in my hand, but did not reach for it. Thinking he was shy or embarrassed, I tried again. “Please. It’s okay. I want you to have it.” Still no response. I wondered if he was deaf, perhaps, or unable to understand English and was about to call on my rudimentary knowledge of sign-language, when a peculiar look on his face made me pause. My sister, a step behind me (but way ahead in comprehension), tugged my shirt and hissed, “Stop!”

Uncertainly, I looked at the man again; what I saw shocked me into backing away. “Oh!” I stammered, “You’re not… are you?”

Here it comes…
A second, more probing glance revealed an ordinary man standing at a bus stop with his shopping bag of (new) books. True, his face still had the lines and yes, he still looked gloomy, but the only need he seemed to have was more distance from me.

Behind me, I could hear muffled snorts from my sister. Hastily stuffing my money into my pocket, I edged away. By now, her laughter was loud enough to turn heads. I didn’t begrudge her the amusement at my expense, but told her I didn’t think the incident had been that funny.

Still chuckling, she pointed to my pants: my fraying, faded jeans with the hole in one leg. “Don’t you see?” she said. “He probably thought you were the one who needed money.”

Still optimistic

My efforts to help haven’t had notable success so far, but I am an optimist and I am on the lookout for the next person on whom to bestow my efforts. Truly, it will be my pleasure.

Hello? Why are you standing so far away? Come back. I’m sure I can help.

One comment

  1. Pingback: Good Intentions Gone Bad | Mood Swings & Other Furniture

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