I was brought today to thoughts about some people who were kind to me at a really down time in my life, these health care providers whose names I do not remember, who touched me for just a moment, whose kindness mattered so much in the moment, but also launched me into a lifetime of caring for others in my profession. They touched a potential that was already there in me, a yearning for meaningful life work, and when I experienced their compassion and caring, my response was “I want to be like them. I want to be somebody who has this kind of an impact in other people’s lives.”
I could see that these people didn’t have to know anything much about me except that I was in a compromised and needy place, and they had put themselves there deliberately by choosing the work that they did, all of which helped me see the caring, not the person, which is why is doesn’t matter really that I don’t know their names. I know kindness by them, and that is what I believe I responded to.
I like to believe that everybody has a potential for strength and goodness, as well as for destruction, that can be awakened at any moment, by any strong experience. I know my destructive potential is awakened when I’m ill, when I’m not caring for myself, when my health is down, when I’m not caring take of the basics: food, sleep, hydration, activities that feed rather than deplete. And it seems that a kind or compassionate action extended to somebody when they are down like that has much more power than when someone’s feeling a-ok. Maybe that’s why it was so powerful for me.
And I don’t think I’m unique, but I think everyone’s time is unique.
I’m often struck by what I call the Kindergarten Syndrome in elderly people, whom I see quite often in my work in home care, and I used to see exclusively in my work in nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities. The Kindergarten Syndrome is that just when someone is getting to be elderly, everything seems to change. And, at least in our culture, we have a belief that once we get to a certain place in adulthood, we retire, we will stay in our home till we die, the family we have created will be with us, our work is done. Everything’s all set, and here we are, we’re 80, and we’re just going to glide, or slide, or quietly walk to our final resting place.
And that’s when a lot of things really start to change for people. Their physical abilities change, their mental capacities change, and their living situation as a result has to change. Their relationships with people who’ve been in their lives for decades change. They’re no longer the adult parent who’s quietly on the sidelines fostering other people’s lives to grow and develop. Now they’re the center of attention of these people who are now grown ups and assuming a leadership role. Or, in the worst cases, the body completely betrays the person, or the mind completely gives out, at least in terms of the reality we all share, and the person becomes totally dependent on others, and they’re in a completely foreign environment, and none of the daily activities are the same. And what’s more, the point of reference has shifted, so that life as it was in the 40’s, the 30’s, the 20’s, during the war, during the Depression becomes the reference point for what is normal, and all this other stuff that’s going on around them is completely unknown and foreign, and what’s more, they don’t want to know.
A lot of times I look at these elders, and they remind me of kindergarten kids. They’ve got the shell-shocked look of children in a new environment, following a new routine, with new people all around them, instead of the familiar ones they were used to. And even while clumsy and disoriented, and confused, there is still a grace with which older people adapt these changes, and the people around them help by awakening potentials. I use the example of the elderly, but I think we all have those kindergarten moments, when everything has changed, we are disoriented, and we need someone to help us find our way.
In caregiving professions, we can assume someone’s having their kindergarten moment, but out there in life, we never know when someone’s moment is happening. Because we don’t know, we can never say, “It doesn’t really matter how I treat them because they’re not due for an awakening today.”
Thinking about all that- the people who took a chance on themselves by becoming caregivers, and in turn took a chance being kind to a stranger, which in turn awakened something in me, which in turn brings qualities of mine to the fore that I might not have known existed in me, I realize that that moment has happened, but there must be infinitely more of them waiting to be awakened.
As someone who’s spent a good part of my life thinking about worse care scenarios, I like to to have an alternative idea to dwell on, and that for me is the idea of potential. For me, a good working definition of miracle is potential that we are too limited in our thinking to know is possible to manifest. Whichever one of us is having their kindergarten moment, what is the miracle that’s waiting to be awakened? By simply allowing for the possibility of a best case scenario, I feel I can be part of its manifestation. But often, and this is where the spirituality comes in, I don’t get to see the results of my actions. I don’t know if this is just me, part of my particular and unique curriculum here, or if most people don’t get to see the result of their actions, but there it is. So I am left with only pure motive and pure choice, and who knows? Maybe that’s what’s continuing to unlock my potential in each interaction I have.
Final thought, on the mechanics of this blog and the Thirty Days of Joy. I once again have no photo to put with this post, but I will instead give you the visual of me speaking into the Voice Record app on my smartphone while driving down country roads in rural Maine between home care visits, as the ideas for this essay came to me today.
As always, thanks for reading and please let me know you were here!