How do I explain to others the nature of my work? How does it affect the way others think of me and who I work with?
Today I was pleased to receive a call from my friend Stella. Stella and I have been trying to call each other for the past month. Each time one of us tries the other, we cannot answer. I have been dearly missing her. Stella was a person of great importance to me for a very long time and having been separate from her and many other people and places while I have been in DC has been difficult. I was so glad to get the opportunity to catch up with her this morning. We talked about the niceties and challenges of our different lives and told funny stories to each other.
While talking with her, she asked “So what exactly do you do when you go to work?” I have been asked this question many times while I’ve been at L’Arche but I always seem to be surprised by my inability to answer it correctly. I know that sounds weird. How do you answer the question of what you do for work incorrectly? I’ve felt like I would like to express how deeply meaningful and beautiful my work is but also want to let others know how challenging it can be. On top of that I must think about respecting the privacy of the people I work with even though some of the things I want to share can be quite private.
What I said to Stella this morning felt wrong. I told her something like that “I go to work and spend time with friends. I support people in their everyday lives and in meeting goals. A Lot of my work is doing chores around the house.” I don’t feel like that even scratches the surface of the meaning of what the work I do is. I have been thinking about calling her again all day and trying to explain the nature of my work in a way that conveys what it really is.
How do I do so? I had this thought of describing to her the nature of the individuals with intellectual disabilities (core members’) lives. I want to tell Stella that I work with people, who at this stage of their lives are unable to do most things independently. That can mean some are unable to get out of bed, get dressed, or shower by themselves. Others are more independent and can walk and prepare simple meals for themselves. Yet all are adults. All have every right to live an adult life in dignity and full of freedom and choice. All have so many gifts to offer to the world, many prolific artists and pillars of the community but all beautiful to behold and know. Yet all would be unable to contribute these gifts without physical, verbal, and community support.
I am a person that gets to be present in their lives and offer that support. I get to support people out of bed. I get to help people shower, use the bathroom, and enjoy meals. I am so present in the house that I contribute to doing laundry, dishes, cleaning, and cooking meals. I get to support people in a wheelchair to get coffee down the road. I get to support an individual who talks very slurred and slow in communicating with others. I get to support another, who believes that every time you purchase something, (whether or not it is with a debit card) you should get change back, by slipping the cashier a dollar in exchange for pennies. I get to support people in practicing the spiritual practices they enjoy by going to church or praying with people.
Yet I am a person that also gets to receive the gift of hearing “good morning” from someone as I help them out of bed, or the “thank you” of skipping a youtube ad for someone who couldn’t skip it themselves. I get to be a part of someone’s life so much that I get to see the nuances of their character. I learn to recognize the faces a person makes as a mode of communication since they speak with great difficulty. I receive the gift of hearing a core member sing songs word for word with excitement. I get to hear someone else sing songs through humming and grunting and see the beauty of that participation. I receive the gift of a person’s joyful reaction to being handed a dollar’s worth of pennies from the cashier exclaiming “this will go to the church and soon they will have a million dollars!” I get to receive the gift of hearing prayer that is so beautiful in its directness towards God. Most of all, I get to be a part of a community that celebrates the gifts and joys of one another and supports each other.
Still I think that I will continue to fail in my explanation of my work because I feel that this work is so deeply personal and relational that the true beauty of it comes from the day in and day out giving and receiving. One must be a part of it and feel it to see how beautiful and kind it is. I hope to call Stella back soon and talk more. I think she would like to see more of what I do. I hope maybe that she will visit to see my new friends and so I can see my old one.
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