Friday, August 24, 2012
A GIFT OF PRESENCE
Take a deep breath and do the difficult thing first. I guess I learned this at a very young age. "Do your homework then you can go play." "Eat all your vegetables and then you can have dessert."You know the drill.
But as a grown up, an adult, we have to make our own choices. Nobody else is there to do it for us. Do we do the most important and professional thing first, or do we sit on a branch waiting instructions to fly, or do we dig in deep and do the right thing first, knowing that the fun stuff will come later?
No one is there for me to tell me which choices need to be made first. My daily choices change, but the one that is always at the front of the line is to do something for somebody else that will change their day, their attitude, and quite possibly their life. I can do this by simply showing up somewhere with my therapy dog, or sitting at my computer writing, or imagining what might help someone in distress and acting on it.
A couple of days ago I was asked by the state of Texas's FRG (Family Readiness Group) if I would become part of a 'team' in the San Antonio area that would go into the homes of families whose husband, father, son, brother, sister had just been killed or severely injured in war. To be there, to help in whatever way I could. Without hesitation or thought I said "Of course."
Sometimes things don't require thought. Sometimes all they require is action. I hope that call never comes, but it most likely will. And I will be prepared. I am prepared now. I have talked to mothers only minutes after they buried their only son who had been killed in combat or in a different battle...a battle with cancer. I have held the hands of moms and dads in the burn unit waiting room at BAMC whose son had been burned over 90% of his body, in an induced coma, with a slim chance of living. I can do this.
Why me? Why was I out of multiple people asked to do this. How can I do this and never have a second thought? I went to bed thinking about it, and it occured to me that I have been guided my entire life in this direction. Alone my whole life, making my own decisions is all I have known. Perhaps that has allowed me the ability to reach out to those in crisis. Perhaps not. I am not sure. I am not certain. I only know I will be there.
Then it occured to me that it really isn't important that I know. It is only important that I be there. That I feel their pain. I take it inside of myself. And then I understood. Would I not be doing the very same thing our therapy and service dogs do for those who need them the most. They are simply there.
My question had been answered. I had learned my lesson. For those struggling, dying, barely hanging on, in crisis and chaos, I will be the cool one who is simply there, to hold onto, not judging, not demanding, not questioning, not knowing, just being there.
I have been told only recently that this is obvious in all I say and do. Yes, I am compassionate and loving and caring. But when all is said and done, this has been learned the hard way, from the friends who have been there for me through all the crap in my life. And I have learned this all too well from people who professed to be my friends and stabbed me in the back multiple times and have walked away, leaving the knives in my back. But the ones that have taught me the most have been my dogs.
Sitting in a dark room at a rehab hospital with a wife of a terminal patient, I held her hand. My little blind therapy dog, Gracie, went to her bag we carry with us everywhere, and dug and dug until she retrieved a weather beaten stuffed little pink mouse. She adored this toy more than any. If it were misplaced or lost, life would have to stop until 'mouse' was found. It was her treasure. But this day it was her gift. She took it out of the bag and with great purpose deposited it on the lap of this lady sobbing in the darkness. I told her what a beautiful gift she had just been presented with. She reached to Gracie and held her little head so softly in her hands and smiled a smile through her tears I will never forget. She never said a word. But she understood. She understood the gift of presence. Gracie had presented her with her most treasured possession. Her gift of presence.
You might laugh or say poor woman, but that's okay. Because I know the truth. Daily I see the tears, the fears, the tunnels with no end, the gloom, the death, the darkness, the never ending anxiety, the hopelessness, the illnesses, and the lack of life that is all too prevalent in this world. And I have faced it head on in my own life and in the lives of those patients and warriors I work with.
I respond well in a crisis situation. I am steady. For you see I too have PTSD and survive horrific panic attacks...with my dog by my side. And together we make it. I consider my having PTSD as a gift so that I may better help others.
So if the call comes. I will be there. And I will hope to make a difference. And they will most likely never know my name, but they will remember that I was present.