I overheard an interesting conversation many years ago.
A woman was upset because her spouse said he didn’t need her.
He wanted her, he loved her, but need? Nope.
The woman was offended and upset, and her friends agreed with her outrage.
At the time, I was much younger so I hadn’t yet learned all the lessons only experience and age can give.
I say that to preface the fact I thought it was kind of sweet.
I thought it was better to be wanted than needed; needed meant we were only in the person’s life when they, well, needed something. Right?
Granny always emphasized wants versus needs, telling me to focus on what was needed rather than wanted. Wants were frivolous.
“Want in one hand and spit in the other and see which one gets full quicker,” she so eloquently directed me one day.
“I don’t see what is so wrong with wanting something,” I replied.
“Wants are temporary. They can change. A need is necessary,” was her answer.
I didn’t understand and told Granny as much.
She regarded with me the look she usually gave politicians and door-to-door salesmen then realized perhaps I was too young to know the difference.
“Do you want a cookie or do you need a cookie?” she asked.
“We have cookies?”
She sighed. “No. But do you see the distinction there?”
She tried another example.
“Do you want air to breathe or do you need it?”
To me, there wasn’t much difference between this and the cookie one.
“I give up,” she muttered. “But let me tell you something, one day you will learn there is a big difference between a want and a need. Mark my words on that.”
As usual, she was right.
Different little experiences gave me more insight into which one I was supposed to follow.
I wanted new clothes, but I needed to pay a bill.
I wanted to stay up late, but I needed to get up early.
I wanted to be thin, but I also needed to eat. However, I wanted to eat tacos; not chicken and asparagus.
In some ways, the thing I needed to do were things I should do – and by should, I mean they were the complete opposite of my wants.
It was like some weird, twisted Catch-22 of life.
This whole wants and needs thing did not make sense.
“You are old enough for your wants not to hurt you,” Granny would say when I would complain.
“I don’t see how age has anything to do with it.”
But, it did.
I was young, or at least younger than I am now, and I stubbornly, selfishly wanted things.
Age did not change that. I still want things.
Only now, the wants have changed.
I want to be happy, peaceful, loved.
I want to know my family and loved ones are safe and taken care of.
Still, I didn’t get how someone being told they were wanted rather than needed was such a horrible thing.
I wanted my family around. I wanted my friends in my life.
Wasn’t that better?
If I needed them, wouldn’t that seem like I was using them in a way?
That’s how it felt as least.
Then it hit me one day.
I felt totally unnecessary.
Unwanted and even worse – unneeded.
“Do you need me to….?” I asked my teenager one morning.
“Nope, I got it.”
A few days later, I asked him if he wanted me to help him with something.
I know that teaching him to be independent and able to take care of himself is on the Parental To-Do List, but dang, it hurt.
Surely my husband would need me to do something for him.
“I’m good, thanks.”
I felt as useful and needed as a manure flavored lollipop.
Had I made my mama feel that way over the years?
Granny always said we’d see how much we needed her when she was gone.
Did she ever feel unneeded?
I couldn’t imagine that; she ran all of our lives until the day she passed away.
“Yes sirree, when I am dead and gone, y’all gonna see how much y’all need me each and every day,” she would declare.
“You think we are gonna need you?” I asked. See, I didn’t have a clue. I was in my mid-30’s and still didn’t understand the lesson.
She got uncharacteristically quiet. I wondered if she had prophesied her own ending and had passed in that moment, but her deep grunt let me know she was still here and not in the Great Hereafter.
“You know, Lil’un, you are gonna learn what it means to need someone and what it means to be needed one day. I may not be here when you do, but one day you will.”
And that day had come.
I felt like I wasn’t needed.
As I wallowed in my self-pity, my phone rang. It was Mama.
“I’m sorry, I must have bothered you,” she said, hearing my forlorn voice.
“No, I wasn’t doing anything.”
“Oh, good. Can you do something for me? I need you to do the Google for me if you have a minute.”
She needed me to do something. Granted, it was something easy – she wanted me to look up a prescription for her – but she needed me to help her. It was something she didn’t want to ask anyone else to do, and she couldn’t do it for herself. Me spending two minutes on Google made her happy and made her feel better to boot.
I was needed.
And it felt good.
Just like that, the lesson was learned.