Lean on Me — A Caregivers Anthem

Music has become the soundtrack of my life. When I hear a song, it brings back memories of where I was or what I was doing when I first heard the tune. This happens because of the brain’s “memory wiring” system. That wiring links your memory of the song together with your memories of the events or feelings that were happening at the time the song memory was stored. When you hear the song, that memory and the memories wired to it are activated. The human body is so amazing!

Lean on Me was Bill Wither’s only number one hit 32 years ago. The timeless message keeps it on many radio playlists. And each time I hear it (as I did yesterday) it brings me back to 1972.

I was in my second year of college. I was having fun—too much fun. In fact, so much fun that I didn’t bother attending classes! After failing all but one course, I was put on academic probation. My parents were furious. I was confused about where I was headed with my life. The Vietnam War was raging and I was afraid I might get drafted. I felt alone. And then I heard the lyrics of this song and I realized that my fears and sorrow would pass. And for the first time in my life I learned how to reach out to others for help.

This song encourages us to reach out to others for support. It speaks to people of all races, creeds, ethnic, and socio-economic backgrounds because we all find ourselves in situations where we can’t go it alone.

Today I nominate Lean on Me as the official anthem for “caregivers”.

CAREGIVERS. They offer a hand to those in need. They provide a shoulder to cry on. And they rarely get the thanks that they so deserve.

Some may be caring for an aging or affirmed parent. Others, like us, might be caring for a special needs child or adult. Caregivers work is never done. We must balance our own lives with the demands placed on us to care for that special person in our life.

In the end, we can’t do it alone. We need support, but all-to-often resist asking for help. That is where this song’s message speaks to us.

Sometimes in our lives we all have pain

We all have sorrow

But if we are wise

We know that there’s always tomorrow

Withers starts the song by reminding us that we ALL have pain and sorrow, yet we should not forget that tomorrow brings another day. When the demands of caregiving get the best of me and I begin feeling sorry for myself, I need a reminder that I am not the only person with this challenge and that tomorrow is yet another day.

I am reminded of a speech made by Abraham Lincoln in 1859 where he recalled this fable:  An Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: “And this, too, shall pass away.”

Lean on me, when you’re not strong

And I’ll be your friend

I’ll help you carry on

For it won’t be long

‘Til I’m gonna need

Somebody to lean on

What a powerful message. We are simply humans. We can’t be strong all the time. Eventually we will need help. And that is when we need to reach out to others for support. But Withers realizes this won’t be easy. So he tells us that we should …

Please swallow your pride

If I have things you need to borrow

For no one can fill those of your needs

That you don’t let show

Asking for help has always been difficult for me. I don’t want to appear weak or needy. Yes, it is my pride that stands in the way. But the message here tells me to “swallow” that pride, admit that I need help, and ask for it.

If there is a load you have to bear

That you can’t carry

I’m right up the road

I’ll share your load

If you just call me

The caregiver’s load is heavy. We are tired, stressed, and overworked. And when you reach your limit and can’t carry the load yourself, help is available from your support network “if you just call me”. A simply message, but something we forget because we are distracted by the weight of the load on our shoulders.

So just call on me brother, when you need a hand

We all need somebody to lean on

I just might have a problem that you’d understand

We all need somebody to lean on

In the end, Withers suggests that others might surprise you because they can relate to your struggles. And he makes it OK for us to ask for help. Because we ALL need somebody to lean on.

My hope is that the next time you feel overwhelmed with the pressures of caring for that special person in your life, you might consider heeding these timeless words and reach out.


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