Guest Column: Lean on Me

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Kaye Sullivan

The song “Lean on Me” composed by Bill Withers in 1972 still resonates with me. The words say, “You can call on me and I will be there” and similar comforting offers of support, friendship, and acceptance.

Today, with Covid continuing, economic distress, lack of in person connections, cancellation of many events, political angst, and now increases of cases across our state and country, I think we all need a friend more than ever.

This song is also a message to ask others for help, support, listening, consolation, or assistance. This means admitting when are needy or weak or weary and reach out.

We Americans are extremely tough, including my 95-year-old Mother who has now been on total lock down in her Virginia Beach, VA, retirement home for eight months. That means no visitors, no going to church, and extreme limitations on everyday life. Yet, her resilient personality accepts her situation and she realizes she is safer despite the entire ordeal now getting very tiresome and lonely.

Weakness is not compatible with the traditional American spirit. We’re supposed to endure and carry on by ourselves, no matter what.  On the one hand, this stoic acceptance makes us stronger, yet in stressful times, perhaps we should re-consider how much we can endure alone.

Recently, we contacted our son Jason to help with a physically challenging house project. Hiring out this work was too expensive. My husband, who is a farm raised kid with do-it-yourself values, decided with a bit of help, he and Jason together could get it done.

Yes, it is hard to ask for help and come to grips with the fact that as seniors, our physical abilities are more limited, not eliminated, just limited. Jay and I are extremely grateful for our son’s help and at least made him home cooked meals of his favorite foods as a small way of expressing our thanks.

The reverse message of “Lean on Me” is pay it forward. That means we all help when and where we can. Each of us has special talents and skills that can aid someone else. In these endless tough days, we can ramp up even more the gifts we give to others.

The song’s lyrics include a reminder that “it won’t be long til I’m gonna need somebody to lean on.” The reality is that one day you may be the friend who provides care and the next day you may be requesting help yourself. 

In COVID times, I encourage you to be a friend or helper or support to just one individual. Spend time together or call or email or text. FaceTime and similar platforms are easy ways to share via live video. Remembering to care about someone else will lessen you own stress and loneliness that Covid imposes upon us. I think we need to accept the duality of giving and receiving, as we are able or needy.

Who knows what your phone call or uplifting card or thoughtful connection will mean to someone else? It can’t hurt, and possibly help a great deal.

Please don’t hide if you need support. And please consider your gifts that you can give to others. If you need a reminder, listen closely to the lyrics of “Lean on Me.” 

With grateful thanks to Bill Withers who died in March 2020 at the age of 82, having composed, sung, and recorded many award-winning songs.


By KAYE SULLIVAN | Special to the Herald Times

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