The Pieces of Ourselves that We Give Away

So I was dropped to my hands and knees, there in the hallway, just outside my classroom door.  I was desperately trying to gobble in some air.  For a moment, it didn’t seem to be working.  My coworkers were around, and the students, too, staring down at me. 

With the help of my classroom aide, I scrambled into the nearby principals office.  I began to put it all together.  It was hard to think, because their was this pain that dominated my whole consciousness in the side of my neck.  And there was something lesser, but unpleasant, going on in the back of my skull.

As I half turned in the doorway I saw that they were restraining the student (let’s call him Nate.)  And in something like a flash, I put it all back together.  I had just been assaulted.  He landed a closed fist on the side of my neck and I didn’t see him coming.

The idea that I hit the wall on the way down, I figured that part out later.

I teach at a residential facility for emotionally disturbed adolescents.  Being assaulted isn’t an every day occurrence.  But sooner or later, in places like this, it happens.

Several years ago, I spent three endless, pain-filled weeks on disability with a sprained back.  About once every couple months, I participate in restraints, keeping our students from hurting themselves or others.  I have had close calls.  I’ve been hit, spit on, and my experiences are nothing compared to some of the heroes I work with, who daily, regretfully, put their hands on our students; who have dealt with all manner of body fluids, who have been hospitalized, occasionally for quite lengthy stays.

My back still feels sore when it rains, after all these years.  I have been in a lot of pain today and spent the morning getting a cat scan to make sure I didn’t have a concussion.  I know that I will be feeling this one for quite some time.

These injuries that I carry with me, they have changed me.  Reduced how much I could, for example, wrestle with my youngest.  I was (if you must know the truth) feeling kinda sorry for myself this morning, as I sat in the ER, waiting for my number to come up.

And then I had this realization:

I am not any different than anybody.  Except that it’s just more obvious for me.

We are wounded by our work, whatever it is.   For all of us, our livelihood take things from us that they should not.  We give more than hours in exchange for our pay checks.  We give away parts of ourselves, and we know that these are parts are families deserve, but we have sacrificed them because we really don’t have an alternative.

Mostly I love my job.  I don’t have a solution, or a neat, happy thought to tie this blog post up with.  I guess I will leave it unresolved… like life.

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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “The Pieces of Ourselves that We Give Away”

  1. Hi Jeff. I, like you, work with psychiatric and developmentally disabled adults and some of them can be physically aggressive. We do receive training but… sometimes we are caught unaware with so much going on. It’s a somewhat learned response that we automatically chalk it up to the disability and soothe our selves with the knowledge that it isn’t personal, still, there is part of me that thinks why did you do that to me, I am trying to help, I am pouring my heart out because I believe you have intrinsic value and you turn around and smack me for trying to do good! Even though Christ carried those burdens it still seems in my human weakness that hardly anyone knows the injustice of it all. Anyway, I empathize with what few pieces of me that are left…


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