One man's quest to try to determine why I am here and where I am going
| I sit in a chair and look at the screen of the computer. As I went out to shop a short time ago, I found myself in a state of awe that people can so easily walk, talk and use their hands to accomplish needed tasks. I look at my own task and see that there is more to what is going on than meets the eye. The people that I work with are called intellectually disabled, but are they really. Maybe they can teach us something about what it means to be a man, woman or even a human being. I feel leery of the world view that takes joy at looking at the belly button of the people that are being taken care of as if we have something that they don't. They can learn from us who call ourselves caregivers. I can not help wondering that in a sense they are partners that allow the care giving to be effective. It is something that is taken for granted. Caregivers need to know more about partnership and about even wondering from encounters what these so called intellectually disabled persons can teach us about being human, men or women of integrity. I realize that so much of what goes on is politically correct and to have it any other way is to risk revolt. I am one man among many women, taking care of 5 males and yes I do feel very overwhelmed as the odd man out. Sometimes I wonder if the only reason that I have the position is that I am male. I am part of meeting some kind of quota.
So I sit here thankful that I have a chance to find out what it means to me, if only for the four months that I have been honored to be a caregiver for four months. I have seen that healing can happen and is happening. It seems only yesterday that I was put into a state hospital to rot. There I was among persons that were mentally handicapped. I recall colorful characters. There was Pauline who wanted bananas and knew abortions because of her exploits. There was Patrick who freely waved his hands and said "batman, superman". There were people like Christina who was put in the hospital because she had somehow found herself in the wrong place without clothes on. She was one of the first people I saw when I entered the State hospital. People at a group home vouched for her and she soon was able to go home.
They all made an impression. Eventually I would do piece work at Paul Dever school with some of these unassuming friends. It was at this place that I began to feel good about myself. I felt hopeful, even if I was not sure what to be hopeful about.
I did get out of the State hospital in an unexpected flourish and was put in a halfway house, where I began a process of getting back my life. It was a long journey as I look back at the twenty one going on twenty-two Gary. Now I am 61. I have been in the role of pastor, chaplain, father, husband along with brother and writer. I do not think I am done yet. At the same time in the advent of the loss of my parents. I realize time is short. Mom died of ALS It was painful to watch and at times it seemed like many of her symptoms were dogging me. My dad died of Alzheimer's at the age of 65.
I wonder why I am even alive at times. I am indeed a survivor, who has died many deaths. I can echo the sentiments of many others who can picture that there were others that should be alive and for whatever reason are not here I am pounding on a keyboard. My fingers journey and at times they seem aimless. Yes I know that zillions of people can write better than me. The only thing that sustains me is the memory of a mentally handicapped adult by the name of Frances. She could write for hours on end. Some would say she scribbled aimlessly. I knew better. It gave her joy. At times I would ask encourage her to tell me about her writing. And she did tell me what she was saying. She had trouble communicating verbally. I knew her well enough to realize she was writing how life was good. When I first took on the job of working with her she was a very angry woman with a terrible attitude or maybe it was the attitude of others that were the problem. At any rate she found out there was more to her than the many instances of abuse that she was connected with. Interestingly my being a male was an entry point to know an amazing woman. She died in the last month. I feel her spirit. I know how I want to spend the moments of my life that are left. Even knowing moments at the age of 61 are not eternal, at least in relation to physical time.
There is a footnote to all this. His name is Jerry. He had Muscular Dystrophy. When I got out of the State hospital, feeling beat up and run over he was there waiting to meet me. He saw the potential in me .I kept feeding off his encouragement and support. Guess what? I became a minister that I always wanted to be. He died a few years later.I will never forget him. I have made a lot of friends since that challenge me to consider what it means to make good use of the time that is left. As he invested in me I seek ways to invest in others.
I am presently making choices about how I will spend my time. I am in a place called Erie that I knew nothing about before I met my present wife. She had health issues and I decided I needed to get her to her home town. I left my children and grand kids and hopes of being a minister. As a caregiver of five adult men. I find myself in a place that demands a lot from my body and mind. How long can I do it? Is it worth even trying? It has been a very healing time. I only know to trust God and remember what happens in the here and now is all that matters. The journey is ahead not behind. I want to encourage all those in my path to become know what it means to have a good life. God willing I will enjoy the journey and maybe those who pick off some of my thoughts and insight will decide life is worth living and they would not have it any other way.