One of the most memorable lessons in humility and compassion I’ve ever had was given through a woman named Mary. It was several years ago, and I was working in admissions at the local hospital.
She was an alcoholic and an addict, and was making noises from her room.
She was ignored. We were full of alcoholics and addicts that night; the ER was packed, and they were all making noises from their rooms.
When they’re going through detox, they’re all making noises from their room. And when they’re addicts and alcoholics, they’re so easily ignorable.
I remember the end part of that night like it was yesterday. It was busy; I was exhausted. I hated my job and was wondering why I was even there. I didn’t like my co-workers and I couldn’t stand the utterly superior nurses in Medical ER.
I was really, really unhappy.
But then I met Mary.
I had to go into register her, so I couldn’t ignore her forever. I got her information to register her, and, as I was leaving, she asked me if I’d bring her Bible to her since she couldn’t leave the bed. I did, and she asked me if I were a child of God.
This is something that really, really stands out for me because at that point in my life, just a few years ago, I was anti- a lot of things and had a notion that the Christian God was God, and all else was … well, something else. I was most certainly not Christian, so I half mumbled a “I’d like to think so,” as I turned to leave.
She then told me I “wore my faith well.” And I was astounded. I had no faith, how on earth could I wear it well?
Stubborn me, I still shrugged her off. I had to run back and forth in front of her room to register yet MORE alcoholics and addicts, and I was getting grumpier by the second. Fucking losers. Alcoholics and addicts. Scum, really.
She kept calling my name, over and over. Finally, frustrated, I popped my head in to see what she wanted (the nurses were still ignoring her), and it turns out she wanted to know her nurse’s name. Because of the situation behind the crisis door, I was hesitant to tell her, but told her I’d find out for her.
She wanted to thank her nurse for being so proficient with the IV. She was in full-blown detox, complete with shakes, tics, and all that stuff that cleansing out one’s system from poison entails. She had been scared and shaking, and had poor veins. She was afraid they’d all be blown. And the nurse got her on the first stick. And she wanted to make sure she thanked her.
This stopped me when the other didn’t.
Kindness, compassion, and gratitude have always been eye-catchers for me, particularly in places where you don’t expect any of them.
I stopped, re-evaluated her situation, and realized she was in absolute hell. The fact that she WAS in hell suddenly made her gratitude all the more brilliant and radiant, and I was almost in tears. I was ashamed. She and I talked for a long time after that. I ran in there between registering and I learned her story.
And it was a sad, tragic, fabulous story. She told me that she would like to meet me again, one day, she she was herself again, because “this isn’t the real me.” She was talking about her detoxification.
Her gratitude and the fact that she “wore her faith well” taught me humility. Her story taught me compassion. I never looked at addicts and alcoholics quite the same after that.
Her persona was a sad, tragic, fabulous one, and her lesson truly magnificent. It floats up in my memory every once in a while, usually while I’m doing something that is not exactly noble.
Like today when I yelled at K. Granted, I didn’t actually yell. Hiss would be more like it. Hissing words that rhyme with “Duck Goff” to her was incredibly rude. She’s a sensitive girl, and I know this, and I hate that I took something out on her that was a) partially nothing to do with her and b) held-over resentment from last year. (So much for releasing all that junk).
She asked if I wanted her to leave, and I said “Maybe you should.” I didn’t finish the sentence, of course, saying that I didn’t seem to be in control of my own mouth (a cop out which I admit) and that I’d be better off talking with her later.
I sent one of the Carpe Diem girls away, and I just stood in the bathroom hyperventilating. While the other Carpe Diem girl told me that I wasn’t a very nice person.
I know I’m not a very nice person. Especially these days.
I’m an addict, you see. In recovery, or attempting to, but a smoking addict nonetheless.
And Sherry and K, two of my best friends, came to bail me out of my … er … organizational problem before school starts on Monday. I hit my 50 some odd hour mark today while K was being a smart ass and Sherry was outside smoking.
And I crashed. I had warned them that last year, they didn’t see any of the bad parts. They saw me, standing out them while they smoked, perfectly happy with NOT smoking because I had gotten past the withdrawal. I told them they didn’t see it because I stayed at home, locked myself in pretty much, and hid BECAUSE I knew I was a beast. I don’t know how to control my mouth; I can only control my environment.
Last year, I was outside my parents’ house at 3 in the morning, give or take, my sheets in my hand “to wash them” when all I wanted was to find the secret stash of cigarettes. My key bent, I couldn’t get in the house, so I came back home and I flipped out. Completely. It was that bad.
But I was upbeat, not too jittery at lunch today with the girls, so it went unnoticed, I think.
And tomorrow, it will be worse.
Sherry’s supposed to be coming over to finish up tomorrow.
I don’t know if I’ll be able to answer the door.
Explaining to Sherry that seeing me in my unorganized mess did things to me that would hurt even if I weren’t quitting smoking, but being on edge, feeling so much not like myself AT ALL, made it even worse. Shameful, embarrassing.
Better to keep this shit holed up and out of sight, I thought. But I came to her because I needed help. Organization is NOT my thing. She, on the other hand, is a whiz. As part of the “boot camp thing,” (in addition to maybe having a clue where I put my school supplies for next semester), I asked for her help.
Asking for help is not really my thing, either. By the time I finally get up the nerve to do it, the moment’s passed, and either the possible helper or what I needed help with has disappeared.
I am really, really hoping I make it through this. I don’t know if I can handle going through all of this again.
I just wish I were more like Mary.