After I had explained what a resolution was, he said in a voice still full of the thought he'd put into it, "My resolution is that the staff be nicer to me." He didn't get it. He was confusing a resolution with a wish. I'm not one to give up easily (unless we're talking about diets or other attempts to self reform) so I persisted. "Well what could you do to make it so that the staff would be nicer to you?" I asked.
At the time, I thought that a clever question. Remember, if I was meeting with him, he had a problem. I don't go out and meet people with disabilities who aren't a danger to themselves, to others, to the neighbours cat. So, I thought this could bring about some reflection, maybe even - heaven forbid - insight that leads to change.
So he puzzled and puzzled until his puzzler was sore. And he brightened.
"I could make them happy."
Do you feel the roll we are on here. No surprise that I took my masters in counselling, huh? This is good stuff. I truly hope you are taking notes. This is "feet of the master" stuff.
"And how could you make them happy?" I asked. Now I expected him to say something like ... "I could stop breaking the furniture over the staff's cars" or "I could stop terrifying the other residents into catotonia." Either of these would be a good start. But, to be fair to him, the fact that I was even having this conversation meant that he'd already done a good bit of changing. He'd been one of the most difficult people I'd ever worked with. He took tantrumming and non-compliance to a whole new level. He inspired awe.
One of the things that women don't understand about the male body is that when we men feel frightened or threatened our genitals pull into our bodies. This would explain why, for the first view months visiting him, I always had a lump in my throat. He terrified me. But here we were, talking, he'd just made it through the Christmas season with no blood spilled no insurance forms filled out. Then, he answered.
"I could die."
I was shocked and looked immediately to his face - was he joking. No he wasn't. He was just thoughtful. The idea had come to him. There was a way to make the staff happy. He could just stop being.
We'd programmed the violence out of him and somehow he'd got the message that we wanted him gone, disappeared.
But who hasn't had those feelings. Who hasn't wondered if the world would be better off unburdoned by our presence. Weekly through my childhood I wished, not for death, but for non-existance. To just disappear. To make the world brighter, lighter, happier by vanishing.
But there he sat, waiting for me to comment - like I always did - on his idea.
"But, why would that make the staff happy?" OK, not great but he took me by surprise.
"Because I wouldn't be here and then everyone would be happy all the time." Now he was beginning to understand his own words. Now tears were entering his voice and muffling the words he spoke.
"No, no, no, you'd be missed." I meant it and he knew it.
"Why?" He threw the challenge down to me.
Why would he be missed? His tantrums wouldn't, his unreasonableness wouldn't, he inability to be second in line wouldn't. But then I realized. He was much more than those things. Clinically he sounded like a mess - but personally he was pretty cool. He was a person that was written about in two dimensions but lived in three. He couldn't easily be captured by words, filtered down into a psych report, collected into data points. He was flesh and blood, fist and fart, laugh and dance human.
"You be missed because," I picked up some of his laundry out of the basket on the office floor, "who'd wear these."
To my relief, he found that funny. So did I. So we laughed and went on.
This leads me to my resolution. I know it's a few days early, but this one is a no brainer. I make the same resolution every year.
"This year I will see each person I meet as a whole person, not as a bundle of behaviours, a wack of needs, or a jumble of concerns. This year I will see the nose AND the face. This year I will seek the center of the person - not the person at the center."