a misunderstanding

A couple people have said I enjoy hanging out at the hospital. Being part of a crisis. I use some of my experiences (names, details, and other identifying info changed) in my high school class. Which led one student to comment that maybe being my friend seems risky. Yes, I tell a lot of stories, spanning many decades now. And there have been some tragedies, some adventures, and if they can’t be turned into learning experiences then what is the point? I teach safety, addictions, nutrition and sex ed. I think it is important to use whatever material I can to make the very serious points, although I also look for humor as well.

One of the exercises in the class is about being part of an emergency. What role are you comfortable in? I have them stand up and place themselves on an invisible line that represents a continuum. On one end, those who would be ready to help, assess what is needed, and be part of the solution. the other end I identify as those who can memorize 911, but not much more. Because some people are not good in emergencies. And that’s OK.

Then we talk about the skills that make a difference, the personality traits that people have that may help or hurt in a crisis, and how to upgrade those skills.

One thing that I do well is I’m willing and able to talk about hard things. I’ve talked to countless people who are dying. 9 years of hospice volunteering. And I will cry with people, I’ve been doing counseling for about 36 years now, since I was a volunteer at Ozone House at age 14. I don’t think there is a subject I find difficult to talk about. Some of those conversations have been hard. One of the hardest ever was talking to my grandmother the night my mom died.

I think being part of nearly 200 births also has changed me. I can be with a women in the most pain ever, in her most powerful moment. And encourage her to go through the pain. Often these days it is with a woman I’ve just met. We get very close and very intimate very fast. I was there holding my dad when they stuffed a tube down his throat and that was torture for him. And really hard to do but I helped him through it.

So there are a lot of skills I bring to a crisis situation. I can figure out the medical jargon, I can make jokes in the midst of a tragedy (mostly appreciated), I can provide physical support and comfort, and I’m told I have a calm presence that is appreciated.

Anyone with a skill likes to use it. Likes to be useful. It feels good to do what you do well.

So my skills are often about helping people in pain, who are suffering in one way or another. People come to me often in crisis. So this is what I do. Do I like it? Do I enjoy it? Those questions just don’t work. I do my best to care about people, to help them, empower them, and certainly to teach. It is often a profound honor to be part of a transformative point in their lives. And I mostly do find energy and balance and affirmation in doing what I do well. And sometimes it drains me totally, especially helping at a birth I’ll wake up the next day and feel as though i’ve been beaten up form the inside out.

And I wish I could come home from a particularly hard time and have someone home who will just hold me for a long time. When that happens I feel very good.

I do what I do because it is who I am, because being able to help someone in pain or in a scary place is the right thing to do. It is not about enjoying it, it is not about liking to hang out at the hospital.

There is one thing I do enjoy. Being a part of something very real, touching up against that place of life and death. The trees seem more amazing, the greens of the plants are more vibrant. The sky is more vast, the people I meet more real. I love my dog more, I taste food more fully. There is a quiet amazement and everyday life is more surreal and beautiful. I started to find that as my mom was dying. I had the experience again and again. And that is what I like. That reminder of life and love and what is important, I really value every reminder of that.

It is a strange thing to depend on other people’s pain and suffering for my livelihood. And sometimes I do have clients who are coming for support and who are not in crisis. But this has been what I do for a very long time – on Tuesday I ‘ll celebrate 3 years of doing massage. And I had better be good after 36 years. 30 years of studying polarity therapy, and almost 20 of cranial sacral therapy. And closing in on 36 years since I did my first counseling training.

It is just who I am now. It is an honor to help people. I’m happy to be used, and used well. And every time I enter a hospital – since the time my mom was so frequently ill – I think, “I’m spending too much time here”. And there is a sadness. That hasn’t changed.

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