I think it is a win-win for Helen in at least two ways:
First, she no longer has to face the fear of, “What if in the middle of my campaign my financial problems begin to unravel?” Or, “What if they find out other things that I know, if known, would be embarrassing?” Or, “What if I should win and these things come out then?”
SECOND, SHE NOW can move into another phase in which her success will not depend on trying to be everything to everybody, which was impossible in the first place. I encourage her to drop her bucket where she is. I imagine she now is freer than she has been in a long time.
It is a win-win for Augusta because this information about Helen’s problems is better known now than later.
One of the great politicians of the past century, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, said during one of the dark periods of America’s wartime history that the only thing we had to fear was fear itself – the fear that people might really get to know the other side of us, the side that we have been hiding for years; the fear of being caught in our secret acts, slipping and sliding, creeping and hiding; the fear of the loud knock on the door, thinking it must be the police; the fear of our neighbors who don’t look like us, or don’t belong to the same religious group; the fear of people who belong to another political party; the fear of white people; the fear of black people; the fear of capitalism; the fear of socialism; the fear of liberalism; the fear of conservatism.
Fear is killing us – literally.
We all live under some kind of fear, and not all fear is unhealthy. Certain things we need to be fearful of. The kind of fear I am talking about is the kind that keeps us from being real. I’m not encouraging anyone to go around announcing their fears in a public way, but I am encouraging all of us to do everything we can to free ourselves from that kind of bondage.
There is a Helen in all of us. Someplace in all our lives we are hoping what we fear most can stay covered up – that secret relationship that has been going on for years and don’t know how to break it off; cheating on our income tax returns, and every time a letter comes from IRS we are hoping it’s not asking for an audit; or knowing that our whole careers rest upon somebody in our lives not coming forward and revealing information that could end our careers or lives as we now know them.
THE THING THAT keeps us imprisoned most, I think, is trying to live up to an image that is expected of us, not the one that is us. If you are like me, you don’t know who anyone is anymore. We change with the weather, because we are trying not to be who we really are. Yes, we are willing most of the time to show our good side, so much so until when the other side is revealed people confusingly say:
We didn’t know that was in her.
This community, especially those of us who have known Helen for some time, can take part of the blame for her situation. How? Simply this: We never conveyed to her that she could really be Helen – the Helen who is no different than the rest of us. She became a victim of our demand that she be a superwoman. Think of the extent to which she accommodated everybody and everything in this community. Whatever and wherever it was, Helen was there.
NONE OF US TOLD her to slow down. Even when problems began to unravel, we still wanted her to continue. We knew how tenacious she was. The day before she suspended her campaign she was not ready to quit. At this point it became apparent that it became more about us than her. We had our own reputations to protect and defend. We had invested so much in Helen’s success, and that success would have translated in ours. We had counted on Helen to continue her campaign to save face. In the end, however, she had no other viable choice than the one she made.
But looking back, I hope all of us feel at least partially guilty – allowing ourselves to cover our eyes to the problems we knew were there, but afraid to make public lest we wound the spirit of Helen, her energy and the sense of community she exudes. We let her down miserably.
If we learn nothing else from this episode, learn this: Don’t ignore certain people – not the ones who are cheering you on, but rather the ones challenging you to stay humble, even though at times their words can be very painful to swallow.
These may turn out, in the long run, to be your true friends indeed.
(The writer is a former Augusta City Council member and a retired labor relations manager from Bechtel Savannah River Inc.)