A few weeks ago I got an email from a guy named Jef Warnar who teaches a course called "Sexuality and Social Relations" at Georgian College in Orillia. He is using my book, 'Just Say Know', in his class along with the video 'The Ethics of Touch' and wondered if I had any words of wisdom for his class that he could pass along to them. In with that request came an invitation to drop into his class should I ever be passing the college during the semester. I read the email and hatched a plan.
We were going to Ottawa to do a presentation there and we could easily go through Orillia and then take the long route to enjoy the colours. So we got up early on Wednesday morning, piled into the car and headed to the college. I didn't tell Jef we were coming, he'd said, 'Drop in' and that was my intention. We found parking and a couple of very polite students gave us directions to room C210, the room the class was held in.
I knocked on the door and waited. The door opened and Jef's face as a mixture of pleasure and disbelief. He shook my hand and then turned to the class and said, "We have a surprise guest today." I rolled in, grinning. There were at least twenty students there and all had that eager look that you see on those who have a goal. I turned my chair to face them and told them that I was on my way somewhere else so I didn't have a lot of time. I gave them three questions.
The last question was from a young woman on my left. She wanted to know what advice I'd give them as they were preparing to enter the field of disability. I told her that I wasn't really good on advice like that but I'd give it a shot.
"You are entering the field of human services," I said stating the obvious, "remember then that your best resource will always be yourself. Your own humanity. Don't be fooled by someone's difference. When you don't understand why someone is doing what they are doing, when you just can't figure them out, retreat to yourself. I once worked with someone who engaged in severe self injury. I couldn't understand why anyone would hurt themselves. There were no clear antecedents to the behaviour, no clear benefits to it either. Then I retreated to self and wondered, 'when do I engage in self injury' ... surely I do, I bite my nails, I chew the inside of my cheeks, I drink too much, smoke too much, sleep to little. Suddenly, I knew that I responded to anxiety, depression, fear, by hurting myself. In that moment the individual I was thinking about became less bizarre, more ordinary, more like me. More than that, I had a place to start ... an understanding to grow."
"If you use your time right, you will discover, too that you are on a parallel journey with those in your care. You will be asked to think about things that most people avoid. You will be asked to challenge yourself in ways that people find painful. You will be asked to review your ideas and your beliefs and your motives regularly. You will have the opportunity for personal growth that is rarely offered to us these days. The best thing, for me about being in human services is that at the end of every year, I am different and I am changed. Contact with others creates the opportunity for contact with self. Be open to that growth."
I was looking at her, my inquisitor, when I was answering, but I was talking more to myself. The question got me thinking about my life here in human services. I was so much older than the students, I had trod the path that they were embarking on. It felt like a real honour to have the chance to talk to them, there in room 210.
On the way to Ottawa I was fairly quiet for a long while. I was answering that question a thousand different ways. Wishing I'd said things differently, wishing I'd focused on differing issues, rewriting what I said. But life is life, what you say you say, so I tired of the self examination decided that I'd enjoyed my journey thus far here, working with others, now it was time to enjoy my journey to Ottawa.
"That tree is beautiful," I said as we passed an incredible maple.
Joe smiled and welcomed me back to the trip.