Don’t fix. Feel.
This isn’t exactly the note Bruce gave me recently in class but it’s my boiled down version of it.
Over the last few weeks I’ve been hyper-aware of this business of how I do or don’t let people and experiences in. In my acting, movement, dance classes…and life.
Past work life returns. Yesterday it was the memory of Ray. I met him when I interviewed for the child life specialist position at NYUMC. I was 22, he was 16. They were going to be making English muffin pizzas in the playroom and I was left alone with Ray to get it started (a clever test). Ray sat there guiding me through the cabinets and not missing any opportunities to make fun of me when I fumbled. You’re not going to get this job, he teased.
I got the job and then got to know Ray. He was a regular. Known by all—staff, parents and kids. He had all the social makings of a street thug. And I think he aspired to be one—especially when some of the cooler kids were admitted at the same time. But he was too gentle. Too silly. Still too much of a little boy.
Three years after our first meeting, on my birthday, Ray died. Timing that was fitting.
One or two days before he died when I stopped by his room to check in, he asked if I would read something for him. He asked me to give him his bible so he could find the passage. He was weak and this alone took considerable effort. He handed the bible back to me pointing to exactly where he wanted me to start. And so I read….
O Lord, my God, by day I cry out;
Let my prayer come before you;
For my soul is surfeited with troubles;
and my life draws near to the netherworld.
I am numbered with those who go down into the pit;
I am a man without strength.
My couch is among the dead,
like the slain who lie in the grave,
Whom you remember no longer;
and who are cut off from your care.
You have plunged me into the bottom of the pit,
into the dark abyss.
Upon me your wrath lies heavy;
You have taken my friends away from me;
I am imprisoned and cannot escape.
My eyes grow dim through affliction;
Daily I call upon you, O Lord;
To you I stretch out my hands.
Will you work wonders for the dead?
Do they declare your kindness in the grave,
Are your wonders made known in the darkness,
or your justice in the land of oblivion?
But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
with my morning prayer I wait upon you.
Why, O Lord, do you reject me;
why hide from me your face?
I am afflicted and in agony from my youth;
I am dazed with the burden of your dread.
Your furies have swept over me;
They encompass me like water all the day;
On all sides they close in upon me.
Companion and neighbor you have taken away from me;
my only friend is darkness.
I think about this day and what I did with Ray in those moments. I can’t read this now, all these years later, without crying. I don’t know how I read it then but I did. With the composure he deserved. My throat was so dry and tight by the time I finished that no words of my own could come out.
If I really want to torture myself, I can look back on those moments and wish I had been able to say something. Anything to comfort him. But I choose instead to believe that what Ray needed was simply to be heard. And to not have his feelings of fear and rage diminished by a trite – it will be okay. So I just took his hand and we sat in silence.
I let him in. Then and now. Maybe he’s back to remind me that I can.
He will forever be a gift.