Photo Credit: Ashley Baker

I hopped on my bike and started pedaling, determined to arrive on time. I’d left home a little bit late, but I could still make it on time if I tried. Even though I was moving quickly, I savored the crisp autumn morning around me. It was a perfect day for yoga in the park, a donation-based event hosted by Shoals Yoga.

As I pulled up to Wilson Park, I heard bells chiming the hour. After locking my bike, I pulled out my yoga mat and joined the other yogis on the grass. Glad to have arrived in time, I tried to quiet my racing heart and settle into the breathing exercises.

Every time I turned my head, I couldn’t help but smile; there was so much beauty around me. Gentle sunlight beamed through the leaves, and light reflected off the fountain at the center of the park. It was idyllic, and I felt fortunate to be able to move my body and enjoy it.

Towards the end of the practice, we started working on inversions — poses that involve going upside-down. We were practicing headstand, a pose I’m comfortable with … in the context of a yoga studio, that is. I typically practice headstand close to the wall; it feels safer that way.

But in the park, there were no walls. For the first time, I was challenged to try an ‘unsupported’ headstand. I kicked one leg up — so far, so good. But I couldn’t quite work up the nerve to kick my other leg up to meet it. Though I knew I had the strength to do the pose, the absence of a wall intimidated me. I brought my leg down.


Ashley, our instructor, saw my hesitation. She moved through the mats to stand beside me. “Do you want to go up again? I can support you,” she said quietly. I felt a smile spread across my face. It was exactly what I needed: for someone else to be my wall. With her beside me, I knew that I could give the pose another try.

“Yes, let’s do it,” I said. Getting into position, I kicked one leg up, moving the other to meet it in the air. Ashley’s hands framed my feet with the lightest touch, just enough for me to find my balance. Then, once I was still, she moved her hands away, and I held headstand on my own.

What a rush! Time seemed to stop as I focused on maintaining the posture. I held headstand for as long as I could, then slowly brought my legs down. “Good job!” Ashley said softly. I was surprised; I’d been so intent on holding the pose that I didn’t realize she was still there. But I was also relieved; in doing that headstand, I’d been safer than I knew.

Listening at L’Arche

As we moved into the final poses of our practice, I thought: That’s what real friendship is all about. Real friends dare one another into being braver than each one knows how to be. Real friends come close, because they know that their presence can be a powerful catalyst for growth.

And that’s what caregiving at L’Arche* is, too: the act of coming alongside. It’s the practice of empowerment, of giving just enough support. Real caregivers use their hands to support someone else with the gentlest touch possible, so that the other person is doing as much as they can on their own.

Seasoned caregivers know that small supports can make or break a person’s day. They know that their touch may make an impossible day bearable, and a beautiful day transcendent.


As I pedaled home from yoga in the park, I thought: Help me to remember this. Allow me to recall that, no matter how small or insignificant I feel my contribution is, it may be significant for someone else. And allow me to accept the help that is given to me. Because with it, I can do and be so much more than I’ve imagined.

It’s the secret we keep from one another, the depth of our need for support. The extent to which it matters whether or not we have trusted hands framing the risks we take. The choice to listen rather than tune out; to call rather than stay silent; to show up rather than stay home.

Thank the people who have offered you their hands, and be sure to offer your own. It may feel futile; you may not see results as immediate as, say, a headstand in the park. But even so, keep reaching. Keep offering. Keep trying. Because really, you never know.Β 

Today may be the day when your touch makes all the difference.


Who holds you up & supports you in the risks you take? Join the conversation in the comments section below!

*L’Arche is a faith-based, worldwide non-profit organization that creates homes where people with and without intellectual disabilities share life together. I spent 5 years serving the DC community in various caregiving roles.

**Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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  1. Tara October 1, 2012 at 3:28 PM - Reply

    YES! I love every word! πŸ™‚

    • Caroline McGraw October 1, 2012 at 5:32 PM - Reply

      πŸ™‚ Thank you so much, Tara! Your life and words continue to inspire me.

  2. Ashley October 1, 2012 at 7:07 PM - Reply

    I really enjoyed reading this! What inspiration… thank you for the encouraging words for us all!! And your headstand was perfect πŸ˜‰

    • Caroline McGraw October 2, 2012 at 1:34 AM - Reply

      I’m so glad you enjoyed it, Ashley! Thanks for letting me use your photo with the piece, and most especially for your support & friendship! I feel so fortunate to practice with you. πŸ™‚

  3. Cassie October 1, 2012 at 7:54 PM - Reply

    A beautiful story and example! Thanks very much for writing and posting it. That kind of support is what I have learned to give to those with physical handicaps, but I have not known how to ask for that specifically for myself, for I am sometimes so talkative, I tend to obscure what I’m wanting to get. This story is great, showing that I can do most myself, and am grateful when company understands how to stand beside me, without taking over the goal of helping me with my challenges.

    Years ago, working for a teen-healing program, one day I was upset myself. The program director saw me crying and said he didn’t have time to listen and talk, as he had work to do, but if I wanted, it would be fine for me to sit on the chair in his office. He did his paperwork, while I sat and cried quietly, and gradually came to terms with my fears and thoughts, and calmed down. When I left, I told him I felt better, said thank you, and gave him a single sentence of the reason why. He said, “Good!” And I left. And 30 years later, I treasure that day.

    • Caroline McGraw October 2, 2012 at 1:36 AM - Reply

      You make great point about being able to receive support, Cassie … and what a unique, lovely story. It sounds like your director gave all he could give in the moment, and that what he had to offer was, indeed, enough.

  4. Gregory Lease October 1, 2012 at 10:14 PM - Reply

    What a tremendous piece on support! I just recommended to 350 colleagues (all visionary entrepreneurs) that they stop by and have a read as they launch into a 5-month program to build their business proficiency to succeed in their various enterprises. This post is “classic” quality, and the underlying truth is so strong and clear that it has application to all of life. Thank you for being faithful to yourself and your gift!

    • Caroline McGraw October 2, 2012 at 1:37 AM - Reply

      Wow, thank you so much, Greg! I’m honored by the recommendation, and I appreciate the affirmation too. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and faithful readership! πŸ™‚

  5. Sook-Han Lee October 2, 2012 at 3:42 AM - Reply

    Beautiful article and a timely reminder, Caroline. Thank you for this.

    The following resonated with me:

    “Allow me to recall that, no matter how small or insignificant I feel my contribution is, it may be significant for someone else. And allow me to accept the help that is given to me. Because with it, I can do and be so much more than I’ve imagined.”

    By accepting and giving support, we can all go much farther.


  6. Robert Gough October 2, 2012 at 4:21 AM - Reply

    Thank you, Gregory, for recommending this blog post. I found it to be very thought provoking because I spent so many years thinking that I did not have the time, or the strength, or the insight, or the right, or the ‘whatever’ to be able to help another person in any truly meaningful way. Somehow I felt I was raised to do everything myself and that each of us was responsible for finding and making our own way. I heard too much about the “you can’t really change other people” mindset as reinforcement to that erroneous thinking. I am 100% sure that I was helped many times, and I know I helped many others as well when I look back on my life… but it’s strange how my “I can’t really help others” mindset persisted to the point where those helping actions were just ‘ignored’ by my mind (I suppose to ‘protect’ my base world view).
    Fortunately, I am still maturing (I’m 58 years old). Not only do I enjoy helping others (and being helped), but I am now of the frame of mind that we humans can change ANYTHING, even the impossible (it will just take a little longer, as the truth/joke goes). And I am so proud of how my 2 boys have embraced the benefits of cheerful service, helping others (mostly through the Boy Scouts of America program). I am now focused on making some Big Changes in my sphere of influence and welcome the fact that I need to help others to nudge these changes along. Thanks, Caroline, for the great blog, for reinforcing my new mindset in support of helping and change; and for reminding me that sometimes a light touch will be enough.

    • Caroline McGraw October 2, 2012 at 3:33 PM - Reply

      You are most welcome, Robert! Thank you for sharing your story with me (and additional thanks to Greg for referring you here).

      I agree – it is a paradox that, on one hand, we can’t ‘change’ people (that is, coerce them into real change), and on the other hand, our actions and supports can help effect great change. You said it so well. And I look forward to hearing more about your life, and the changes you’re making!

  7. Melissa Javier-Barry October 2, 2012 at 3:39 PM - Reply

    This is a quote I’ll hang by my desk…right next to my Jean Vanier quote. Thank you.

    “Real caregivers use their hands to support someone else with the gentlest touch possible, so that the other person is doing as much as they can on their own.”

    • Caroline McGraw October 2, 2012 at 5:46 PM - Reply

      Wow, what an honor! Seriously, thank you, Melissa. πŸ™‚ You’re someone who has embodied that truth for me in the way that you give care!

  8. Sarah Bayot October 2, 2012 at 5:35 PM - Reply

    Great post Cari. I love how physical acts can remind us of the deeper things in life that show us what’s important. Life ebbs and flows in and out of moments where sometimes we are the wall and other times we need others to be the wall. Love it.

  9. Donna October 2, 2012 at 9:37 PM - Reply

    Hello Caroline! Thanks for the great post- I totally identified with the head stand, and still have to push back a fear every time I do it without a wall. I remind myself that the safety net is no longer needed- this helps me be fully in the present moment.
    Thinking of Willie, I hope that I use the gentlest touch of support and see what he really needs in the present, not what I fear from the past experiences.
    love you!

    • Caroline McGraw October 3, 2012 at 12:50 PM - Reply

      So glad you liked it, Mom! We’ll have to practice our headstands together sometime – it was so much fun doing yoga with you on the cruise.
      And you said it so well – it’s really tough to see what’s needed in the present, but you are an amazing parent, and I have faith in you.
      I love you too!

  10. Mary Shapiro October 3, 2012 at 8:17 PM - Reply

    (why do I always find myself wiping away a tear when I come here? πŸ™‚
    maybe this time it was the giving support or the receiving support or reading as your MOM supported you and you supported HER or seeing all of your 18 posts! YAY! Lovely Miss Caroline! Jeff and Dug and I miss you! Happy Fall (er I mean Autumn πŸ™‚

    • Caroline McGraw October 4, 2012 at 1:31 AM - Reply

      What a wonderful comment – thank you, Mary! I’m so happy that A Wish Come Clear moves you. And I miss you all as well! Jonathan and I were just saying that you and Jeff would love visiting us during the annual WC Handy Music Festival — there’s music around the clock, all over town. We’ll have to talk. πŸ™‚

  11. Jason Burnett October 4, 2012 at 6:46 PM - Reply

    This brought tears to my eyes. In the day-to-day stress of helping my two autistic kids deal with the world, I sometimes get too caught up in the stress of day-to-day life to recognize how important my support is to them, and how important that are to me. Thank you for helping me take a step back and look around today.

    • Caroline McGraw October 4, 2012 at 7:51 PM - Reply

      Oh Jason, I’m so glad the piece met you where you are. You sound like a wonderful dad who deals with a lot on a regular basis, and that takes such strength. Your kids are blessed to have you supporting them!

  12. […] as a little Hispanic Grandmother, an unassuming woman who has life-giving force in her. A woman who lends her support at key moments, changing lives with the truth she embodies. “A life lived in fear is a life […]

  13. Tam October 22, 2012 at 4:28 PM - Reply

    Hello my dear. So I’m a few weeks behind, but just wanted to say that I loved reading this. You have such an awesome gift for getting at the really good stuff behind the little ‘everyday’ moments. And of course I have tears in my eyes…especially after reading all the comments and seeing how your words are at work offering support to so many.

    • Caroline McGraw October 22, 2012 at 4:36 PM - Reply

      πŸ™‚ Tam, thank you so much! Your hands have framed so many risks for me, and I am so thankful for you & for our friendship. Here’s to brave days!

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