October 6, 2010

Why I Can't

"Don't touch that!" I heard a woman exclaim as I sat in my office. "Don't touch that!" she said again. I got up from my chair and went to see what she was talking about. Our waiting room is pretty basic and there isn't much that I would consider not kid friendly.

As I peered around the door I was greeted with a red kool-aid stained lipped smile. She had to be about four. Half of her hair held neon bright colored bow barrettes holding braids in place. The other half was not braided and resembled much of what my hair looks like when I wake up in the morning. Her jean shorts fell off of her and her shirt was definitely a bib for her kool-aid.

Mom quickly replied "sorry" when she saw me and started to go into an explanation about her daughter touching things. I reached out and touched Mom's arm and said "no worries."

She looked at me and started to say something else and I assured her that all was well. "Well, when you have kids you'll know what I mean," she had to say as she looked me over.

I hesitated for a second as I stood there standing in a black business dress, with a gold necklace, rings, bracelet, and shiny heeled shoes. My hair styled and make-up just right. Really I felt fake as I presented an image of being perfectly put together.

"Actually..." I began to say. I wanted to tell her I do have three kids and I am just like any other parent, especially when out in public with my kids. That last night at mini golf my kids ran all over the course and threw their golf balls in the water and bushes. And my kids often bare their own food stained faces and clothes, but somehow I could not say this.

So instead I asked her how I could help her. She went into a sad, sad story and I helped her in every way that I could.

Often I try to be empathetic to those that we serve. Often I feel as though I fail. I remember during my first interview at UMI 11 years ago being told that "You can't save everyone." No I can't save everyone, but that does not mean I cannot try in every way that I can to help as many as I can. There are just too many people in this world who need help and are hurting and too many of us do nothing.

I am reminded of this daily.

And when I watch a little girl and her mom leave and the little girl turns around, looks at me with her deep brown eyes, one hand holding up her shorts and the other waving goodbye, I know I cannot stop trying to save everyone. I just can't.

Blessings of a Man

A few months ago I met a man. He appeared in my office door wearing a brown short sleeve T-shirt tucked into his jeans, a brown belt, and mud stained work boots. He was clean-shaven and wore glasses. His eyes were light brown, almost mirroring his shirt.

He took a few steps into my office and I offered him a seat. He shook his head no instead choosing to stand with his right hand holding the back of the chair.

His left hand twitched a little as he starting talking to me. In the course of his dialog, I watched his left hand clench and release, clench and release, over and over. His right hand remained placed on the back of the chair, almost as though he needed the support.

I sat in silence as he story progressed from mildly upset to angry to angrier to hatred for the world. And then with his left hand he reached up and took his glasses off. Almost simultaneously his right hand reached up and he covered his eyes.

The silence in the room was deafening.

I watched as his mud stained work boots moved towards me and when he sat down in the chair I breathed. His shoulders sank as he rested his hands in his lap, left hand still clutching his glasses, and he looked at me as he began weeping.

"I am sorry," was all I could muster up to say. I could find no words that seemed sufficient and was too paralyzed to embrace him.

He looked defeated.

Over the last several months he became a regular visitor of mine, in the beginning he would come in to yell (and always later coming in to apologize), then he started stopping in just to say hello, and then he would come in and share his dreams with me.

I learned in the past few weeks that he is planning to leave. In the midst of all the bad it turns out that he actually had some good things happening to him. It took several years and lots of paperwork, but he is now able to be self sufficient and begin the adventure of working towards his dreams.

He stopped by on Monday to tell me he is leaving this week and wanted to show me the car he had bought. I watched as his eyes danced with excitement as he shared with me his story of purchasing his car. His joy was contagious.

After oohing and aahing over his car, he looked at me with his light brown eyes and said, "I wanted to make sure that I came to see you one last time. You have no idea how much you helped me. You are a blessing and I want you to know that."

For a moment we stood there staring at each other, comfortable in the silence, and our first conversation flashed through my mind. He hugged me goodbye and left. I watched him out of my office window as he crossed the street and got into his car.

And my eyes filled with tears and my heart was happy and I shouted to him, "No you are the blessing."

Pure Sweetness Moments

I first heard the scuffing of feet before they caught my eye as they passed my table at the restaurant. An elderly couple was slowly making their way to the bathroom.

He supported her by holding her left hand and she assisted by using a cane with her right. I watched and snapped a photo because it is these pure sweetness moments that often take my breath away.

Shortly after Cassidy informed me, and half of the restaurant, that she had to go potty. So I took her.

He was sitting on the bench just outside the bathroom, waiting. Cassidy and I entered the bathroom and I immediately saw the woman sitting on the toilet, as her bathroom stall door hung half way open. Trying to avoid Cassidy commenting I quickly ushered her into the nearest stall.

As we were washing Cassidy's hands, the woman came out of the bathroom. I watch her left arm shake as she slowly moved her cane with her right hand. It took everything in me to stand there and not help her.

Finally she made her way to the sink next to us and set her cane down. She washed only her right hand. I placed a paper towel in her right hand and smiled. She quietly said "thank you" while scrunching up the paper towel in her right hand.

Cassidy and I turned to leave and I held the door for her. "Why are you doing that?" Cassidy asked me. "To be nice," I said. Her husband smiled at us and said "Thank you," as he stood up and took his wife's left hand in his.

I watched them as they walked out of the restaurant while thinking about their story--How did they meet?, did they have kids?, what happened to her left hand?-- but knowing that whatever their story contained, it surely contained love.

Thoughts on Love

In July 1999 I was sitting next to Ben when he looked at me and told me he loved me for the first time. I stared into his eyes and replied, “There are a lot of kinds of love. What kind are you talking about?” Definitely not what he was hoping to hear.

C.S. Lewis, Dr. Gary Chapman, and others write about the different kinds of love and love languages. After reading such books I started to categorize and try to understand love. Sadly this over analyzing of emotion led me to minimalize love and miss giving and receiving it.

Today I look and see love all around. From the little girl who stopped to hug the crossing guard this morning to the man who I watched reach up and tuck a wisp of his lover’s stray hair back into place. From the secret glances across the restaurant from a couple who just started dating to the woman who shyly smiled and blushed after reading a text.

Small simple acts, yet so tender.

I admit I am a hopeless romantic and I may glorify the acts I spy, but it is much more exciting to view such moments through the lenses of love. It heightens the senses and makes such small gestures grand and more passionate and simply beautiful.

I am lucky to not only see love but to feel loved. From dancing in the moonlight to sticky kisses from my daughter. From a stranger embracing me to an unexpected message from a friend. Simple unplanned without expectation moments.

I think we get wrapped up in trying to find the narrowed down version of love we create that we miss the pure raw moments that surround us. Love is not something that fits neatly into a definition and that is what makes it so special.

Yes, there are still many kinds of love, but the greatest discovery lies in not understanding love, but seeing it, touching it, and sharing it ---daily.

Singing in the Rain to John

“Happy Birthday John!” the male caller exclaimed. “I have waited so long to be able to say that to you!" The excitement loudly radiated from his voice that I almost jumped out of my chair and starting singing Happy Birthday.

As I sit in my office, door open, I often get the luxury of overhearing one side of many phone conversations. We provide the use of a telephone for specified purposes. Although those specified purposes often end up broken and I end up with daily entertainment. Today included the deep suave voice of the male caller asking, “Hey baby, how ya feeling after last night?”; the high pitch laughter of the female caller, “I can’t believe you hit him with a frying pan”; and the hushed sobering voice of a man to his mother, “Mom, please can you send me some money.”

It does amaze me what phone conversations people will hold in public. I never ask about their phone conversations, although judging from what I hear on my end his partner is feeling pretty good, hitting him with a frying pan was the right thing to do, and his mom is not going to send money.

But birthday boy John got me and I had to ask. And John, well he is “very, very happy, because Dad was able to call him this year---today, today on his birthday!”

My own excitement for Dad and John literally warmed my heart. Add that to my love of celebrating birthdays (well celebrating anything really) and I am compelled to follow the wonderfully wild idea that I have. So I am going to go outside, in the rain, and twirl and spin and sing Happy Birthday.

Happy birthday John! Happy Birthday to you!

Gratitude Reminders

"Hey Miss Sarah,” his familiar voice echoed before he appeared in my door. Slipping my shoes back on my feet, I spin around in my chair to greet him. “It has been awhile Joseph,” I smile and say as I look him over. “You look good!” I say to my surprise and his, and he does. A buzz cut crowns his head and a littler more than stubble accents his pink colored lips. His eyes beam clear white and he skin is clean with a sun kissed glow. He looks good.

I question him about his seizures, and social security, and drinking, and medications. He smiles and answers about each topic. He then begins to tell me about the poison ivy he was recently exposed to. “You know I have moved Miss Sarah. I moved from living under the bridge to a tent. When I was clearing out my area I got the poison ivy.” I make the appropriate I am sorry face, when really I am covering up my own emotion.

He continues, “I have a nice tent, four sleeping bags, more clothes than I need, a coffee pot, and a solar shower. Oh yeah, coffee too.”

I smile and ask questions. I truly am interested and excited for him, yet in the back of my head I see the granite countertop kitchen with stainless steel appliances in the house I recently looked at.

I drift back to the conversation, as Joseph is explaining to me how his solar shower works. “And if you just heat about a gallon of water that is enough to keep the shower warm. I get wet, turn the shower off, soap up, turn the shower back on, and then rinse off.” Again my mind takes me out of the conversation to the burning hot shower I lingered in this morning.

Our conversation then turns toward the photos in my office and I can tell he is ready to leave. “Well Joseph, it seems like you have had a few good months. It is good to see you. Keep me updated,” I reply. “I will Miss Sarah,” I hear as he walks down the hall.

Gratitude reminders.

I will be the first to admit that I have been blessed with a lot in my life, but I have also worked hard, and learned some things the hard way, to be at this point in my life. Yet I will never take for granted all that I have.

Gratitude reminders. We all need them from time-to-time.

Thanks Joseph for my gratitude reminder today.