Thursday, October 19, 2006


Every now and then life requires you to pause. Just stop. But the pause isn't just a halt, it's a call to refocus on what's important. To reflect. Joe was a guy who lived in a group home that was where I worked my last direct care job before becoming a consultant. He had moved from a large facility and was finding it very very hard to adapt to the 'outside'. Everything seemed to move to fast for him, everything just seemed overwhelming. Food had too much flavour, the wind had too much scent, the water had too much crispness. And Joe, like a circuit that's overheated, would just blow.

It was an awesome sight. He would suddenly leap up and screams would come out of him. We, all of us wonderful supportive people knew exactly what to do - panic. The neighbours, the ones that had protested the group home being there in the first place, could surely hear him. We were, in honestly, probably more concerned about them - about their complaints, than we were about him. Tantrum - but for gosh sakes - do it quietly.

One Friday night I was working with a woman whose name I cannot remember. She was a beautiful, small, San Francisco-haired woman. Something tells me she had a British accent, but I'm not sure. We looked at each other and then back at Joe. One of the others who lived in the house said, looking at us with exasperation, "He likes to go for a ride when he's upset, take him for a ride." We looked at her and said, like she was a staff and this was a discussion, "But what about the rest of you."

"Take us too," she said simply. We figured that she knew Joe for much longer than any of us, so that's what we did. We took Joe for a ride. We took everyone for a ride. Toronto is beautiful at night. We drove through the mansions of Rosedale and by the big Sam The Record Man sign on Yonge Street. Then it was over to Chinatown. A rain had fallen and the road was slick, but what was cool was that all the lights of the buildings reflected off the pavement. Add some music and you'd have had an intro to a great road trip movie.

Joe was quiet. Eerily so. I tired of driving so we pulled into Micky D's and got everyone a treat - hot apple pies that were as hot as the center of the sun - as Brad and Angelina's honeymoon. I switched to the passenger side and off we went again. It was a great shift - no paperwork, no work at all, just a long drive. Joe, who had quieted as soon as we mentioned the outing was sitting in the car, his eyes closed listening to the hum of the engine and the soft chatter of the others in the car. We all felt the peaceful safe sensation that you sometimes get on long drives in warm cars.

He was taking a pause. He was pulling himself out of the overwhelming demands of his day and that newness makes on the senses. He needed to just ... stop. Regroup.

Everyone else on the outing was looking out windows and seeming to enjoy themselves. But Joe just sat there with his eyes closed, MacDonald's pie in his hands, untouched. I began to speak to him wanting to ask him if he was ok but as I began, I felt a hand on my arm. "He just likes to sit quiet." I was told. She really could have been staff - she really should have been staff.

A few days later when Joe seemed to be chatty and happy, I asked him about the car rides. He said that he liked to go on them when he was getting upset. He said that in the institution they used to take him out when he needed to go. "Do you always close your eyes when you are out?" I asked. He told me that he only did that when he had a feeling inside that made him want to blow up.

This interested me and I asked him how he stopped the feeling. "I don't stop it," he said, "I just think about it."

"And that makes it better," I asked

"Yes, it does," he answered. He didn't explain. He looked at me like what he was saying was self-evident.

Well, I'm on pause right now. I'm thinking about the feelings. Not trying to stop them, just thinking about them.

It does make it better.

They don't go away. But when you think about them - the feelings that need to be thought about, you know them, anger, grief, loss, jealousy ... they don't ask that we act, they ask that we notice - like a sore on a foot that makes us limp, feelings make us take stock and take care.

So, Joe, all I can say is that I thought about you today. I thought about your simple wisdom and your complex needs.

And what I needed was just that - simple wisdom for my complex needs.


Belinda said...

I loved the way you described Toronto at night and the way the real teachers were the people you were being paid to support! I only wish I knew what a "San Franciso Haired Lady" is. Can you please clarify? :)

Dave Hingsburger said...

When you go to San Fransico make sure to wear flowers in your hair. You know wild hippy hair that women used to wear when I was a boy.