Blessed Be Charles
Observe, if you will, the photo I took last night at a birthday party we gave one of the people we support.
This is Charles, one of the attendees. He's one of the exceptionally fortunate ones. Although he lives with a roommate whom our non-profit agency also supports, his mother and father love him, and he is able to see them enough to feel their love. I wish I could say that about everyone we support.
I try to socialize as much as I can with everyone on both sides of the mountains that divide the parts of our organization's business. I leave these gatherings, always thinking. My life is so different now.
I used to wear nice clothes all the time, and have deep intellectual discussions often. I traveled over all the country. I often felt empty.
Today the responsibilities are massive. No one gives the CEO (or her team for that matter) awards for getting productively through the year, in contrast to the for-profit world. But for this time in my life, my experience here is a gift.
You see, intelligence only goes so far in this world. It boils down to what Charles holds in his hand. I played with the photo until it became clearer...
The little book he carries with him in his ever-present bag of most precious things is a photo book of his family. Inside, there is Charles as a little boy, and everyone he loves. There is Charles through the years, with mother, father, aunts, uncles. The book is old, and it represents the world to him. In this photo, his mother has just left the party. Charles has taken the book from his bag, and he clutches it. He smiles.
Which led me to remember something specific last night.
There is a play/movie, Wit, about a seemingly indomitable and brilliant professor of English, Vivian Bearing, (played by Emma Thompson) fallen by advanced ovarian concer. She's cold and rational, and up to the point of her illness, that is how people tended to relate to her, too. Smart people visit her as she lay ill, and intelligent clinicians care for her; one is reminded a little of Job's comforters, though. Most everyone exhibits fair to excellent critical thinking skills, but no one really helps Vivian. They can't; she's dying. Only two people acknowledge reality and are able to comfort the professor and ease her loneliness (for advanced disease is a very lonely state of being.) They reach out to the dying woman out of compassion in one case, and shared love of poetry in the other. These two, of all the characters, can see past the roles - the public mask worn, the persona adopted - and enter the realm of true relationship.
These two characters represent the two things that matter most, beyond anything: compassion and genuine relationship.
Watch the following short scene from the movie, a narration of John Donne's poem about death. I think it rings true, not only for death,but for any of the other perceived assaults that life delivers, including those which result in human suffering - and those that create society's outcasts.
No, I do not have the accountrements of my for-profit life anymore. But what I have are other good things. Charles, you will never understand the words, but still: thank you for reminding me.
On the limits of our brilliance (it's okay to let go of it):