Seriously…it’s August? Where has this year gone? As I sit in my studio and contemplate how two-thirds of a year seems to have flashed by, my thoughts turn to other ponder-ables. At this stage in my life as a recovering cog in a large law firm, life has given me the luxury of contemplative reflection after an early morning walk with the Knuckleheads. Acknowledging “life is good” I stop to wonder about some of the patients Sam and I visited last week.
We arrived at West Pines only to find the discover the entire parking lot is filled to the brim. Grr, I growl. We end up finding a spot in a nearby parking lot and will need to dash back toward the facility. It’s a silly annoyance but one that seems to wrap its ugly tentacles around my brain. It makes me feel rushed knowing how critical adhering to the schedule is for the facility and we’re close to being late because of this inconvenience. Finally I arrive and take a relaxing deep breath. Donna, the coordinator seems frazzled herself and asks if I mind if a colleague conducts the visit. I realize then we each have our own little crosses to bear, whatever they might be. Mine is a minor inconvenience, Donna’s is a state of overwhelm of more work than seems possible to manage while filing in for others on vacation while having thoughts for her daughter who recently had knee surgery and how she will function easily with a toddler and newborn without her help. It’s there that I realize everything is relative to the moment, and reassure her it’s no problem, no apologies are necessary and Sam and I are there to make things as easy as possible for her. She smiles gratefully, Sam wags his tail at her and we are introduced to her substitute, a lovely woman whose name sadly escapes my memory and we move toward the first building. Let’s call her “Chris.”
Chris is a warm soul, gentle with a cheerful smile. She’s worked at West Pines for many years, knows the ropes, the people and the mission. We move toward our first stop. She tells me the facility is at capacity, somewhat unusual. She also tells me our visits will be closely monitored as the patients we are visiting may be potentially combative and our safety is paramount. I understand and put on a brave face. I can’t help but wonder if the upcoming lunar eclipse and blood moon has some impact on these folks.
In the year and a half we’ve been visiting West Pines, we have been fortunate to never have any negative incidents where I thought Sam might be at risk. His calm nature and sweetness in fact, seem to calm everyone. I rely on his posture and physical signals to guide me as to how we function in each situation.
When we arrive, the floor facilitator cautions us again. ‘Chris’ reiterates the message and I acknowledge my understanding. As soon as we walk into the ‘day room,’ one young man slowly moves over toward us and politely asks if he can pet Sam. Sam wags his tail in agreement and I stand close, observing him. His somewhat vacant eyes suggest there’s a lot of mileage on his soul, despite being maybe in his late 20’s. We chat casually when I catch a glimpse of another very young man who clearly is interested. I watch him and ask if he’d like to pet Sam…he nods affirmatively. A quiet, dark man with long slender fingers, he moves over to sit eye level on the floor and pet Sam. His whispers his name is Robert.
Robert clearly is troubled, though I know nothing of what led him to this mental health center. He starts to babble a bit in unintelligible phrases and Sam looks deeply into his eyes. Robert’s calm but potentially capable of changing quickly. Within a few minutes he hollers “Jesus!” a couple of times. I’m not certain how to respond, looking both at the unit facilitator as well as Chris for clues. Their reassuring smiles comfort any trepidation on my part.
Another young man, perhaps in his mid-30’s, comes from down the hall and wanders over. His name is Chad, he’s warm and engaging-the exact opposite of Robert. Sam picks up on his energy which is, dare I say…normal. I can’t help but wonder what it was that brought both of them here. And then it occurred to me of all the different and sometimes serendipitous life happenings for the Robert’s and Chad’s of the world…and I can only conclude…but for the grace of god, there go I. While my heart is sad there are those who are less fortunate, I am grateful at that moment.
Visiting patients always impacts me deeply, but none more than last week. I know there are those less fortunate than me and I recognize how truly lucky my life journey has been. While I can’t say with 100% certainty that I’m ‘normal‘ by comparison, I do recognize my good fortune of at least being considered socially appropriate enough to function without medication or intervention and lucky enough to meander through life with a sweet furry companion. I am blessed and easily conclude that visiting patients like Robert and Chad is a privilege and hope to continue bringing them a moment of respite, even a smile or two to those who are sick or troubled. Sam will do the work and I will drive and find that elusive parking slot in a stressed world. And while doing that, I will remind myself to not grumble about it. Life could be so much worse.
Life, love, bark! 🐾