Winter 2011 #6
“Please don’t bend the straw”.
Whispered, typed, hand-written; no matter how you communicate this simple request it will be ignored.
The temptation to kink a flexible straw transcends human powers of resistance. Nurses, hospital tea ladies, even my dear family, universally lack the self control to do otherwise, and all bend straws with panache. The straw-kink is a deft manoeuvre. The straw is first transported, unwrapped as required, brandished, then delivered, and just as it approaches the lip of the cup, snapped abruptly with Tourette-like gusto. This singular deed is a definitive, wordless declaration of starched efficiency, ultimate control, consummate skill, and of numerous hidden passions as well! Slow motion cameras would surely reveal on the face of the Kinker a tableau of human emotion. In a split second, ‘helpfulness’ in all its helplessness would be laid bare for all to see.
Kinker, I know you mean well. But you aren’t helping me at all. Worse, you are stuffing things up. Have you ever tried to straighten a once-kinked straw? A straight straw, only a straight straw, will be of use to me.
Kinker, let me choose how I set my own straw. Heaven knows Free Will is not all it’s cracked up to be. The celebrated rights of freedom are limited by many more factors than we imagine; and choice is an overstated commodity in our world. So many people have very few options, or none at all. But in this one, tiny detail, surely I can be trusted to exercise my own free will. Can’t I?
Kinker, I know it’s your straw, from your tea trolley. I don’t want to seem ungrateful to you for your gift, but help is not a simple thing. Real communication, even without the compounding effect of voicelessness, is a rare and difficult task. You don’t actually know why I need a straw today, and were you to ask I might struggle to explain. To match help with need is such a challenge. The helpless don’t always want to be helped, and then even the helpful suffer.
Kinker, I understand how central to human existence is the desire to help another being. I know that you are deeply affirmed by your splendid kink. I know that in the moment that the straw bends to your iron will, the cosmos itself resonates with affirmation. The heavens declare you to be all that you know you are: benefactor, healer, counsellor, diviner of all truth, defender of the poor, and more besides! But if you are here to help me, then let’s just clarify our motivations, shall we?
Kinker, don’t assume I am helpless. It’s a straw, for goodness sake! I think I can manage. Don’t let my wheel chair and my artificial voice deceive you: beneath this legless and mute physique beats a heart of fire! I can bend my own straw!
Kinker, I am a difficult patient. At day’s end, aren’t we all? I’ve been here in your hospital ward a week, another long, long week, with no good news. With no bad news either, that’s true. My nerves are frayed, wondering every day what the experts will say. Most days they say nothing at all, some days they don’t even visit, and their silence is worse than their scowl. I know you are simply the tea lady, but you are treading on very thin ice.
Kinker, please leave me alone. No, that’s not what I meant to say. I need your help, Kinker, I want that cup of tea! But equally I need to face my tea alone. You cannot drink it for me. You cannot carry my load, you cannot tread my path. To be alone is the most inevitable and the most challenging chapter of life. You can’t hold my hand, you can’t console me; you can’t reassure me that all will be well. This is my straw now, and mine alone.
A bruised reed he will not break,
And a smouldering wick he will not snuff out. Isaiah.