This morning we were out a bit early, decided to grab a bite of breakfast out before fully starting the day. As we took our seat in the restaurant a woman with an intellectual disability came in accompanied by her support worker. She glanced at me and smiled. I smiled back. We didn't speak. I had worked with her several years ago, gosh more than several years ago, when she was experiencing some really dark times.
Her behaviour, then, was out of control rage for the years of abuse and victimization that she experienced. It was a long hard road that she and I travelled together. Eventually, through the support of a family that loved her, a group of dedicated staff that were committed to making a place of welcome and safety, and the strategies and coping mechanisms that she and I worked on together, she came to a kind of peace. Not with her past. Never with her past. But with her present and with her future.
Seeing her was good.
I saw surprise and warmth on her face when she saw me. These looks were followed almost immediately by worry. She glanced at her staff; a large woman with a stern mouth tempered by kind eyes. I knew that it was important that I not greet her. Our hellos had been said with eyes and with smiles. Nothing more was needed of me. Nothing more was wanted. Her privacy needed protected. Announcing to her staff that I was once her Behaviour Therapist would be a violation of trust. She hadn't needed me, or anyone in that capacity, for many, many years.
They sat at a table not far from us. I heard them chat. I heard them laugh. There was an ease in her laugh; there was genuine delight in the laugh of the woman with the stern mouth and the kind eyes. They were enjoying their morning, they were busy talking about the plans for the day. Labour day.
It was such a typical kind of scened someone who needs support, receiving support.
But it really struck me, on this Labour Day holiday, about the nearly invisible victories that direct support workers have almost every single day. They make community possible. They make connections happen. They take lives that have been damaged and turn them, through the alchemical properties of skill when combined with caring, into lives with a joy for living.
They work today.
Thousands upon thousands upon thousands of direct support professionals. They got up this morning, early, and left their families on this holiday Monday, to go out and make this thing called 'community living' happen. Their work, done well, doesn't look like labour. Their work, done well, is, however, work. It's the kind of labour that changes lives, changes families and changes communities. It's the kind of labour that requires dedication and self-discipline and determination. It's the kind of labour, done well, that is exhausting.
When we left the restaurant I turned to look, to maybe catch her eye to say goodbye, but she was too busy chatting with her staff and eating her breakfast to notice me. But that's OK, we'd said goodbye a long time ago. And since then, she has been supported, every day, by the labour of people who aren't often honoured for their work or for their achievements.
People with intellectual disabilities have never had a guaranteed right to freedom so, I salute all of you who are out there right now, making freedom possible.