Monday, November 13, 2006


"So, what are you afraid of?" I asked him, curious what he would say. He'd lived a life unimaginable. Institutionalized young, incarcerated forever, finally free - to old to do little but breathe fresh air. Activity swirled around us, others busy with their lives paying no attention to the two of us, just sitting. He took a while to answer, I'm ok with that, I don't mind waiting. This was something I would have to learn.

Years ago a co-worker and I went out for lunch. We thought that we ought to be friends but we weren't. We had a social circle that overlapped, interests that both ran parallel and even occasionally intersected, but we had never managed that 'rhythm' that friendships have. So we went to lunch. Just lunch. It was horrid. Just awful. He was a slow talker. No ... not slow ... ssssslllllllooooooowwwwww. Frustration bubbled up in me. "Spit it out, just spit it out," was all I could think. My eyes were rolling around in my mind if not my head. I kept cutting into to finish his sentences. I could see frustration build in him too. All my friends, that's all of them, are quick talkers. We finished lunch and both said, "Let's not do this again." We were never enemies, nor did we dislike each other, but even so we avoided social situations.

So becoming a slow listener was a ... um ... journey. But finally the old man at the table was ready to answer. "I think I'm afraid I'll have to go back." He surprised me. Community living, for him at his age, wasn't much more than a room in a house and in many ways his life seemed smaller here than it had back on the large ward. "I like it here, I like having my own room," he continued. He liked being free.

This was a thoughtful old man, I realized, I asked him then, "Why do you think you'd have to go back?" This time his answer came more quickly, "Because they'll give up on the idea that we should live here and put us back there."

He was afraid that our committment didn't run deep enough. That we'd give up on the idea of community and that he'd end up back in the land of the long corridors.

He's one of our veterans. He always made me feel sad. That the 'idea' came a little to late for him. He knew, in his own way, that he was one of the powerless - one who's life was affected by what other people wrote on paper - what other people thought - one who's life could be changed by the stroke of a pen. I don't, I can't, remember his name. When getting ready to write this, I dug around and found my journal notes from our meeting, but his name is only recorded as "W". I used shorthand in the arrogence of youth - my memory would always keep the moment alive.

I was going to write something about Paige and George today but somehow, though I picture them both well, it was "W" that beckoned my memory. I don't know why. Paige, I remember too, of course, and Stanley - always. But I will save them for tomorrow, or maybe later this week.

Because today, "W" in Vancouver comes to mind. I wasn't scheduled to meet with him but he made it into my journal anyways. I was at the group home to consult regarding someone who lived with him. But "W" was there, sitting at the table, sipping on cooled coffee. I, being early, just sat with him. The question of fear had come up because the staff had just told a really funny story of getting in her car that morning to find spiders crawling up and down the driver's seat. She had exploded out of the car screaming like she'd seen the "devil himself". We'd all laughed and then, I just asked "W" about his fears.

He, then, having confided in me, asked me what I was afraid of, tit for tat.

I took my time. "W" was in no rush.

"Before I talked to you, I think I would have said, 'heights'. But now, I don't think that's the best answer."

His eyes asked the question, but he waited.

"I'm afraid that we'll give up on the idea - and people will have to go back."

He smiled, glad to be understood.

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