Friday, August 08, 2008

Pain, Depression, Service, and Healing

For the past week or so, I've been experiencing an acute exacerbation of my chronic back pain, and that increase in pain has triggered a low-level depression that has been dogging me as August (and my upcoming 44th birthday) signal the waning of the summer season.

Pain has been a constant companion for several years now, and a number of medical and alternative modalities have offered little respite. Depression, an older and more intimate acquaintance, is sometimes in the background and sometimes in the foreground, but my ability to live with its presence---and function well in the world in spite of it---is somewhat more practiced than my relationship with pain. Still, I go about my days and enjoy a modicum of success, love, prosperity and contentment in my life.

After coming home from work this evening on the heels of a day in the inner city, the last thing I wanted to do was to go back out, but I had a commitment to take an elderly disabled friend out to dinner, and there was no way I would renege on that promise. This woman has been our friend for many years, ever since my wife was her Personal Care Attendant (PCA) and advocate in the mid-1990s. Now, in order for her to stay out of a nursing home, she again needed official advocates to oversee her care, and my wife and I have stepped up to the plate as volunteer advocates (or "surrogates" as we're officially called), charged with managing her team of PCAs and putting out the brush fires that are part and parcel of running the team and household.

With Mary not feeling well, I went to town on my own and our dear friend was waiting outside in her electric wheelchair, and she squealed with delight as I kissed her hello. Although I was nervous about being out with her on my own for the first time, we communicated well and I was able to discern her needs despite her very limited powers of speech from the effects of cerebral palsy.

During a simple dinner on the patio of a local restaurant, I used a small mouse puppet to entertain her, having the mouse "eat" some cornbread, crumbs stuck to its furry face as my friend laughed uproariously. Forgetting about my pain, my depression, and my own (tediously boring) problems, I was able to detach from my "story" and simply be present with this wonderful, warm-hearted woman.

Walking through town, we stopped into a local cafe, listened to live music, and I bought my friend her favorite dessert---chocolate mousse---to savor over the weekend at a time of her choosing.

It was apparent that having company, a chance to go out on the town, and the stimulation of laughter, food, and music was very uplifting for my friend, and as I drove towards home, I realized that being of service and giving of myself for two hours was, after all, uplifting for me as well.

Escaping from my own self-indulging rut, I had a respite, a reprieve, and time to focus on someone else. And that person---disabled, without family, and living on a very fixed income---is a happy, content and lovely person who brings joy easily to others with a simple smile and a kind, compassionate presence.

So, in the midst of pain and depression, it is still possible to serve, to be served, to heal, and to be healed. May wonders never cease.
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