During the coming weeks I hope to occasionally visit the topic of my vocation, but a good place to start may be to answer the question of what I like best about my job.
I work with those who have developmental disabilities. Many of you know that. Those who do also know that my job requires I keep a certain professional distance from my clients which proves quite difficult. If you work with me, have worked with me, or do a similar type of thing in your vocation, you know what I mean. You know professional distance is required, but you also know that it is a often meaningless. Try to be as distant and professional as possible, it makes no matter. Those who are developmentally disabled will have none of that, because they get life right, though saying this requires a qualification. Saying they get it right is no soft and sentimental musing. They really do get it right in one big way.
Life is way too calculating and pragmatic. In far too many circumstances we have to have a handle on it. We have to be more charming, handsome or pretty, smart, and outgoing than we are. On a personal level, I know none of those things really describe me, so it easy to fail at them. When I fail, I may as well be forgotten. Let’s be honest, I am not alone in that. As long as we can look the part of perfection, we’re okay and our lives filled with affirmation. If only this were reality.
But we’re not okay. We are far from it. For me, there is the inability to carry a tune or dance, my lousy sense of direction, my intensity, and my short stature. I’m not alone in the matter; only the list is different. Something makes all of us far from the best. Our best friends are able to ignore those vulnerabilities, but where I work, the clients carry it one step farther….they see beyond the things that make me that way to the things I get right. None are the least bit embarrassed by me and they treat me with far more love and respect than I deserve and even more love and respect than a few I call friends. This is the best thing about my job.
I don’t have to be able to dance or sing as long as I like music (it doesn’t have to be good music), my sense of direction only has to go as far as being able to traverse a few blocks of Northside Chicago (don’t ask me to navigate Evanston), my intensity melts into joy (though I’m still too intense) and compared to a few I work with I am not even that short, though I will never be a giant among men. More importantly than seeing past these things, in their own way, my clients also do the greater thing and tell me what I do right. I go to bat for people and I care little for being the best and brightest of people, thinking it better to act with a certain measure of kindness, though I too often fail at that as well. In a word, the best thing about where I work is “acceptance” and it is an acceptance that comes in spite of me.
Let me explain what I mean. I do not mean that my clients are any more accepting in most things than the next person. Most easily become flustered by personal and professional situations and a few chastise themselves for their limitations. In this way they respond to the “human situation” in the same ways as everyone does. What is different is most respond positively to the person realizing the human is different than the “human situation” and there is an innate value that gives a person value that cannot be had by a person’s attributes.
I have been called joyful, impersonal, lovely, morose, laughable, attractive, pragmatic, cold, caring, passionate, dispassionate, and a hosts of other things. I have taken pleasure in and felt the disdain of hearing these adjectives that are the product of compliments and chastisement and often the things I’ve needed to hear. None really get at the totality of who I am, however and they are also things I rarely hear from my clients. For them I am only a person who has wants and needs to which they can attend and who can attend to their wants and needs as well. That is after all the best we can do for one another and we do these things not because of any ability or attribute, but because we have the good gift of one another’s presence. This realization and the opportunity to act on it is the best thing about my job.
Image: Statue on the grounds of Misericordia Home, Chicago