Monday, September 07, 2015

Labour Day: Alchemy - Revisted

I have been asked several times today to repost this from last year in acknowledgement of those who work for the freedom of others:

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.

So today.

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.


Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt said...

Sorry I missed this yesterday: but it gives me hope for humankind if those who take care of the vulnerable, often working where no one will know if they are mean or short with their clients or any of the many behaviors that can go unperceived, are instead supportive, hardworking, and well-trained.

It is not a given - but many people do their jobs, and do them well - and they should be celebrated and thanked as you have done.

Anonymous said...

I am usually content to know I make a positive difference in peoples' lives every day without any particular applause, but it's nice to be thanked.

You are welcomed!

Anonymous said...

I must confess:

I helped a young lady with down syndrome bake and deliver cookies to a PWA coffee house for a number of years.
I made sure a Muslim gentleman with mental illness got his Halal foods when coworkers shrugged it off.
I helped a young man reduce behavioural outbursts significantly by providing a more predictable world.
I made sure an incest survivor was given choices about who helped at shower time, and when to shower, which reduced aberrant behaviours significantly in one month.
I helped a young man deliver food hampers to PWAs in a community program.
I facilitated trips to Nashville, Disney, hockey arenas, libraries, too numerous to mention.
I facilitated a trip to Hooters and a Casino for a young man and his buddy while other people had them watching cartoons all day.
I led a music and drama workshop for special needs people with limited opportunities for over ten years.
I brought laughter into every room.
I proposed a shift rotation for part time that substantially reduced costs at my part time job.
And when someone was put on a calorie reduced diet, I prepared gourmet diet meals like seafood lasagna..... so the food was awesome instead of tawdry.
I made sure the people in my care were out and visible in the community every shift.
I took a shy and awkward lady, and dressed her up in sequins and satin to sing "Oh, Canada" at a community event, garnering major applause.... for her.

I was celebrated and thanked every time I walked in to my place of work by the people in my care..... they loved having me around.

I sincerely apologise for making some of my co-workers look bad. That's my complete and unabashed confession.