… is in knowing that, even when she is not actually in distress, she will always be helped.
Car trouble? Pop the hood and fiddle with the fluid gauges, pull out the jack and start setting it up, put up those hazard triangles and see just how quickly the mechanical muscles show up. House flooded? Appliances not working? Heavy flower pots need moving? Carry some soaked rags outside, get out the toolbox, try to lift the pot yourself and see just how quickly any of the men in the visual vicinity volunteer their services. It’s both amazing and delightful. Getting the help, however, is only half the delight. The other half lies in a lovely knot of knowings: knowing that she probably could have dealt with it herself; knowing that receiving his help affirmed both his strength and his creative, problem-solving intellect; knowing that letting him help was actually as much of a service to him as the help itself was to her. Such is the secret delight of the Damsel in Distress.
Unfortunately, these days, the delight usually has to be held in secret. Too many women have tossed this delight out a fifth story window and run it over with the steam roller of Equality, believing (strangely) that “distress” is shameful and the assumption of distress is degrading. As a result, in some places of the world many men (and in an ironic twist, many women too) are afraid to assume distress so as not to “demean” the would-be recipient of help. The Damsel is scorned by proud, lonely women and avoided by men who have once had their toes steamrolled. And where does that leave the Damsel? Working a difficult task in twice the time with none of the company.
Not in Africa! Here, no distressed damsel need tinker or fret for long. (Unless of course it’s raining during rush hour in bumper-to-bumper highway traffic. But that’s another story.) In fact, more often than not it’s a case of “help management”. Sometimes there are too many volunteers, and too many muscles on the job can be as bad as too many cooks in the kitchen – lots of ideas and little direction. I must admit that I occasionally try to do these kinds of jobs in secret – not because I want to purposely gyp the men of their opportunity to help, but because sometimes I want to make sure I remember how to do the task … just in case. And so it was today.
At 7:00 am I was in the car and backing out of my parking. Drag, wobble, wobble. What? I got out and my suspicion was confirmed. Flat tire. I knew I didn’t have time to deal with it. I also knew that the moment I started pulling tools out of my trunk, either a neighbor, the guard, the caretaker, or the young man who washes my car would appear immediately – perhaps all together – and the task of putting on the spare might turn into a serious production and would likely make me late for my early meeting. I quickly called a colleague in my neighborhood for a ride and left the task for later.
After school, after my last appointment, I waited. Here was my chance to finally practice my tire-changing skills. It had been at least four years. I waited until the caretaker and gardeners had left for the day; until the light was just starting to fade; until the cars in the spaces next to me had come home. All of these would give me cover. In the early dusk, I could quietly duck between my little Honda and the SUV next to me and get that tire off by myself.
The jack had come apart somehow in the trunk, so it took a couple of minutes to figure out how that went back together. I got the jack under the car and lifted it just enough to take a little pressure off the rim without lifting the tire entirely off the ground. The nuts, however, would not budge. None of the four even creaked when I leaned my weight into the lug wrench. At that moment, perhaps I was radiating Damsel in Distress vibes. I hadn’t even stood up yet when I heard a voice behind me, “Do you need any help with that?” I looked over my shoulder and recognized the young man as one of the teenagers who lived with his family two floors above me. I smiled. “These seem to be screwed on pretty tight. You’re welcome to try though.”
He was a medium-tall, lanky kid, 17 or 18 years old, decently strong though still an adolescent; we were probably matched in weight. I handed him the lug wrench and he repeated my attempts. “You’re right, these are really tight. Must have been screwed on by machine or something.” I smiled again as he bent down to try a different nut a third time.
Thinking to give him a graceful way out of the situation I said, “Hmm … well, I guess I’ll have to call a mechanic tomorrow to come and get this off. Don’t worry about it. Thanks for trying though.”
He tentatively handed me back the wrench, smiled and started to walk away. I started to put the tools away in the trunk when suddenly he was back. “Wait a moment. Sometimes the mechanics use their foot on the wrench to tighten the nuts. That might work.”
I handed him back the lug wrench. This time he pressed his thin Converse sole into the the end of the wrench and leaned his weight down on the bar. It budged! Soon he had all four nuts off. Seizing my opportunity to again be a part of the project, I started to crank the jack; though not fast enough for him and he respectfully offered to speed that part up. “All those hours in the gym are paying off,” he said with an awkward grin. Once the wheel was high enough, he wiggled it off and I handed him the spare. Together we lined up the tire on the bolts and refitted the nuts. He again used his foot to carefully tighten each one, and I lowered the jack. We threw the tools and the tire back in the trunk. “Great idea about the foot! Thanks so much for your help,” I said. He shook my hand and we headed into the building.
So, once again, the Damsel-in-no-real-Distress gets her dose of delight. She is simultaneously reminded of her former knowledge and helped, the task is accomplished, and his creative strength and budding manhood are affirmed – both are served. Success all ’round! This Damsel may have to wait a little longer to change that tire on her own; however, if she never needs to, that’s okay too.
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