In the chapter titled “A Glimpse of a New Vocation,” Nowen writes about his ten day trip to Canada. Can we just pause right here and discuss how much I’d love to live in France for a year and be able to take trips to the US/Canada like this? Okay then, now that we’ve put that out there.
Nouwen writes about a handicapped resident who got injured–badly–in an accident when out with someone from the community (I’m assuming another handicapped person). He wrote about the tension between trying to give someone their freedom and taking care of them–how to allow them to do what gives them joy and quality of life while also putting enough precautions in place to protect them. It’s a fine line. I see it with my residents a lot, especially on the Alzheimer’s unit. They want to do what they can, but we often tell them they cannot get up, cannot use the bathroom on their own, cannot leave the unit, etc. It’s really hard for me.
I have been placed on a 72 hour hold before for suicidal ideation. I was put in a locked unit and held against my will. It was one of the most shameful and embarrassing moments that I can remember in my life, and that’s saying a lot. I hated it. I still feel shame when I talk about it. I’m pissed. I’m pissed. I’m beyond pissed. I’m fucking pissed. I’m sad and angry and mad and all other sorts of things when I consider that they refused to allow me my rights to voluntarily sign into the facility and instead did the psych hold. I can’t do anything about it now, but it could affect my jobs, ability to go abroad with Peace Corps or maybe even AmeriCorps’ Teach for America down the road. And I’m mad. But I digress. It is hard for me to deny people the basic freedom even when it’s needed to keep them safe. And thus I identify with the tension Nouwen feels.
Another theme in this chapter is the way that childlike faith in mentally handicapped people seems somehow more sacred than that of those of us who are more caught up in intellectualizations in our heads. I don’t have a lot of faith in the whole faith thing. I am angry and hurt by Christianity in more ways than I can count. So I try to avoid that all…plus, since I’m not in such a Christian environment as Nouwen was, I don’t have daily prayer and all that kind of stuff. What I have noticed, though, is a simple love and approach to life that I don’t know I experienced much before, even in kids. There is something about having someone years older than you trust you for everything. One lady in particular comes to mind–when I come in, she tells me, “I like you. You’re pretty.” And she always says “Howdy” to everyone. She is so childlike in some ways. She will do whatever I tell her…with some coaxing, of course. Or the man who can walk and all but has lost his mind, probably literally. I have to coax and cajole him to do anything–sit up, use the bathroom, stop sleeping in other people’s rooms. But he trusts me when I get him up, and eventually he does what I ask. Others who can’t walk trust me to change, dress, and feed them. It’s an awesome, and I mean that in the sense that it fills me with awe, trust and responsibility.
Reading this chapter reminded me of some of the personal angst that I experience on a day to day basis at my job. It is a struggle, but it is also rewarding. I need to take better care of myself so that I can continue to do a good job and not get bogged down in my own frustrations and memories and internal conflict. If I can, I know that I can experience the life-giving aspects of my job more fully. As Nouwen said, “They did not hide anything from me. They allowed me to see all their fears and love.” This is a big part of what I do, and it is one of the things that requires me to stay emotionally present with my residents, which is sometimes hard.