I felt a strange warm pain that had something to do with the many words I was trying to keep together (Henry Nouwen)
Last night I worked the afternoon shift on the rehab floor. One thing that I like about that floor is that people can generally respond to you, apart from the few who are nonverbal or non-communicative. There are a lot more lights to answer, questions to field, demands–but somehow it is worth it to work with people who are on their way toward going home and not just waiting to die. I still like the Alzheimer’s floor best. I had a patient with paranoid schizophrenia last night. It is hard for me to care for people with severe mental disorders–other than dementia–because I start to fear I might end up the same. I try to take care of my mental health, but the reality is that I have great potential for developing something crazy and I can’t do anything about it. I cared for her the best I could, and I think I did a great job.
This first chapter of Nouwen’s book is titled Parents and Children, though for the life of me I can’t understand why. Regardless of the title, the chapter had several things that I related to. One was when he talked about Pere Thomas Philippe, a man of God who had drawn several people to go so far as to cross the ocean to be closer to him. I know that feeling–finding people who seem so close to something transcendent that to be close to them is to almost to break through the thin spaces and touch it. Even though I don’t know if I believe in God, there is something there and I can sense it around them. I know why someone would move an ocean away to be close to that. I also envy the laid back atmosphere of the village that he moved to. I wish I knew how to take advantage of that. It is my goal when in Costa Rica to experience some of that. In some ways it sounds nice, although I think I would go crazy.
Another part that struck me was the scene about Danny. Danny’s faith was so open, so free, so unencumbered with anything else. I have not worked with many people who express what they believe, at least to me. I have worked with people who have Bible verses and sermon notes in their room all the time, though I haven’t seen that make much of a difference to them. But I have noticed that when I am caring for people, I have the easiest time in believing something outside of myself. Even if my residents don’t verbalize faith or whatnot, I still find it easier to believe in God in their presence.
I still don’t buy into Nouwen’s reasoning for going to L’Arche–wanting to follow Jesus completely every day. I have a great respect, though, for Jean Vanier, and Nouwen, for the work of love they participated in in these homes. Caring for the disabled is not an easy job, and giving up a position of acclaim and power is almost unheard of in this field. Anyone who will give up a job in academia to go change diapers and feed people without duress will get my ear for a bit.