Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Letter

"Hey, I know you!" She says it every time she sees me, which is every morning that I'm in the office. She remembers me from when I visited her in the institution before she moved back to the community. I remember her being a tiny little woman with a tiny little aura. She sat staring at a computer screen with no life in her face. She and I chatted a bit about computers, she smiled at me - like it took energy.

Now, only months later, she is bursting into my office. A big bright bold woman with a big bright bold aura. She wants to tell me about some letter. I want to get on with what I'm doing. But I stopped, pushed myself away from the computer - an act I don't even do for Joe, and said, "What happened?"

She was full of a story about getting some letter. She wasn't sure from who and she wasn't sure about what, but it was an important letter. She said that they sent it to her twice. With a few questions she seemed to be saying it was a letter from the institution asking questions. Who knows maybe they are doing follow up. I don't know. She wasn't clear.

That's wrong.

She was very, very clear that she wanted to tell me about the letter. It was very, very clear that this was important to her. It was very, very clear that my asking questions was an attempt to meet my needs by frustrating her. And I understood. I hate it when I'm in a middle of telling a story and someone stops to ask for irrelevant details. I just want to tell the story, have the joy of telling it uninterupted. I did what I tell others to do ... I realized, "It's not about me, shut up."

So she talked about this letter, about it coming twice. I know I'm repeating myself but so did she. Often, at increasing volume and passion. She wasn't yelling. She wasn't 'agitated'. She wasn't in need of anything but getting the emotion out. Not even "meaning" mattered, it was emotion that poured out of her it was her "feelings" that she wanted understood. She was annoyed by this letter. She was annoyed by the questions it asked. And in some way she was frightened by it.

Then suddenly she turned to me and pointed straight at me. "I don't want to go back! I told them I don't want to go back!! I don't like it there!! I stay here!!" She was firm. resolute. A woman who had spent her life on a PRN order was PROUD, RIGHT, NOW. Forceful and complete, she could speak her mind and did. "I stay here."

And the story was over. She grinned and then looked at her staff and said, "I know him!!"

She was gone.

I looked back to my paperwork. Important stuff, I knew it was, I'd been working on it for hours.

And she was why.

The purpose behind the work.

She doesn't want to go back.

She's home.

What it is to have a place in someone's journey. To be an intimate observer into someone else's ride through life. To be able to sit back and watch a woman with few words speak with eloquence and passion and truth. To be here, now, with her.

Tis a privilege what we do. A down right privilege.


Belinda said...

Wow, Dave, you distilled the meaning of listening and the difference between "the paper and the people." I loved how you told this story with such elegance.

Nicole said...

Aw, to see someone be able to choose to "stay right here" must be such a joy. I think it is your attitude of it being a privilege that makes you so successful. Thank you.

lina said...

A privilege and an honour truly.
thanks for sharing her story - and yours.

shiva said...

Good story, well told. It does strike me, however, that it *might* have been worth asking her if you could have a look at the letter - in case there was any kind of threat of her being re-instutionalised against her will involved in it (as she said she didn't really understand the letter)...

Jessica Bettcher said...

It definitely is an honour to do what we do. Wonderful story Dave.

Anonymous said...

The more I read your words the more my mind and heart opens up...that last part- I understand, that's how I feel, too. I lived with l'Arche communities for about 7 years and then worked with various groups as a support worker and now I am a coordinator with Support Services Group Coopertaive in Halifax, Nova Scotia. I think I heard you speak at DayBreak in Richmondhill, Ontario when I was an assistant there. Thanks for your words-they help me continue to learn how to unlearn all I've been taught over a lifetime about differences.