we need not go it alone…3-28-23


I up and quit my fresh from interning professional job after just 2 ½ years.  It was an absorbing chapter, sprawled on a floor mat, delivering therapy for youngsters shaped by cerebral palsy.  Wet behind the ears and guiding families in crisis.  Improvising solutions for the severely disabled in an under-staffed residential home.  Coordinating care with special ed teachers and advocating for kids in medical clinics.

One morning I woke up, felt my smoldering depletion, the depth of the bottom line of my chosen profession: being with people in pain.  And I grudgingly questioned this work as a life choice.  So in total youth innocence we dumped our few belongings in storage, plunked packs on our backs and pilgrim-ed 15,000 miles through the U.S. and Canada…without the benefit of a car.  Forging our newly adult selves in the raw cauldron of life on the road.

We returned to live in a VW bus outside a friend’s home and I waited tables at one of those 70’s fern and redwood restaurants.  Bringing people omlettes was the exact inverse of pain. Food delivery created so much happiness.  After six months, with a bit of perspective under my belt, I felt myself inextricably drawn back to physical therapy.  There was something there for me and I needed to find out what.

I’ve been dancing for decades with this unique destiny and after all this time, I’m clear that human existence includes chapters of pain. The challenge of living in a human body is overwhelming at times. It can be extreme. And in the midst of that extremity, despair can be so intense. These are moments when we are at our most tender, our most vulnerable.  When the human will to go on is challenged to the max.

And despair is not our only response; these can be moments of incredible courage.  Of tangible insight.  Of potent transformation.  This profession is not just about being with people in pain.  It’s about being with people in their stunning power-packed moments. Being a witness, breathing with, listening.  And, on occasion, touching softly the privilege of partnering in transformation.  This continues to be a powerful calling.  And I’m grateful that all those years ago I stepped back, took a deep look and consciously renewed my vows.

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like we’ve all been extra aching lately.  I’ve been with so many beings experiencing a world of pain…physical pain that spills over into heart and soul, deeply.  I’m versed in that world, personally as well as professionally.  I know how the fire of loneliness is stoked as we watch everyone go about their days with casual ease, lost in the notion that surely no one else feels like this.  I’m here to gently remind us that we’re not alone.

I landed on the dance floor Sunday with all this working through me and turned it into a two minute invitation.  This is an invitation you might invoke when the sheer loneliness of it all comes to call.  But it does require one thing, which can be a big ask in those vulnerable moments.  It necessitates reaching out toward another.  We need each other.  We simply can’t do this alone.  We need someone willing to be with and breathe.  Someone capable of being in the presence of pain and not giving advice.  Someone who does not feel compelled to fix the hurt.

We mindfully created that exacting partner presence on Sunday. We let spill whatever was challenging.  Physical pain.  Or heartbreak.  Or mental anguish.  Questions about our soul suffering identity.  Our impatience with platitudes about trusting the unfolding mystery.  Two minutes total: verbally and then in movement. And then two minutes to simply be there for the other.  It took so very little time.  And it created so much potent healing.

I spend plenty of time alone these days.  And mostly I enjoy the company I keep.  But I shine differently as reflection.  Not only do we need each other, we are glorified by each other.  We simply cannot do this alone and really, why would we want to?