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New Eyes

August 24, 2013

I got a new perspective today, a new set of eyes to see a reality that escaped me for many years. It has humbled me and taught me a few things.

For a few years, I worked as a marriage and family therapist at a large state agency. I loved my work and I loved my clients. I loved being a part of people's lives at their most tender and vulnerable times, walking with them, listening to their stories. Dave, let's call him that, was one of my clients. He was not an ideal client—those were the people who came to work on something, who wanted insight and change. Dave didn't come for insight or change. By the time I became his therapist, he had been coming to the agency for a number of years and was passed from one therapist to the next mostly because he outlasted them at the agency. So one day, he came to me.

I was not at all excited to get him. Dave was not what you would call a high-functioning client. He had a mental disability and he didn't come asking for insightful answers. Initially he came because his mother was concerned about him—he needed to clean up his room, he needed to have better ways of coping with life, he needed to have a social life. She was worried. Dave was in his forties. But he had a job, a car, and a bicycle that he would ride to our weekly sessions. By the time he started working with me, he had had all the therapy he cared to have; yet he kept coming. All of my colleagues agreed that he came for the social interaction and that in itself was therapeutic for him. So there wasn't a whole lot I could do for him, which made my job tedious and frustrating. I wanted to help and listen to his troubles, but we were basically done talking after 10 minutes of “How are you doing?” when he started asking “Are we done yet?” So we would take walks and play games. His sessions with me were only half an hour long and seemed to last forever, I honestly don't even remember how we filled the 30 minutes. I do remember being relieved when he had to cancel from time to time. On many occasions, I was irritated and frustrated that he kept coming and making my job really hard.

We spent many hours together and those hours seemed like years. When I left the agency, I passed him on to someone else. It has been more than 10 years since that time. Over those years, I wondered what happened to Dave. His parents were aging, looking for a home for him and getting nowhere while I was still working with him. Had they found a place? I hoped he was OK. But since professional ethics didn't allow me to contact him, I had no idea how he was.

Well, I saw Dave today, completely by accident—or you could say God put him in my path. I choose to believe it was God. I was stopped at a red light and he crossed the street in front of me. I recognized him immediately. It was hot outside and he was wiping his brow on his shoulder, just like he did when he drove his bicycle to my office. It was unmistakably Dave. After my initial shock wore off, I noticed his untucked shirt and how much older he looked. But something changed and the change wasn't in him, it happened in me. For the first time ever, I noticed a man who was humble, alive, still standing and walking after years of dealing with his disability. I saw a man who had the courage to get up and face his day. I saw a man who is God's creation, just like I am. God gave me a new set of eyes through which to see him. I wanted to run up to him and say hi and ask him a ton of questions: “How do you live your life? How do you cope every day? How are you really doing?” Knowing Dave, he would look me blankly in the face and say he didn't know and wave my questions off. I thought back to our sessions together—did I see God in Dave then? I am afraid not always. Mostly what I saw was someone who made my life difficult. Was I compassionate? Was I understanding and patient?

I prayed for Dave as I was sitting there in my car because for the first time I realized that what he needed most was prayer. Did I pray for him before? I felt ashamed of my impatience and how I thought he made my job difficult. Today God showed me that Dave's life is a sacred life—a life filled with coping with a disability and hardship. It never occurred to me that his life was a hard life to live.

I prayed for Dave, for God to give him courage and strength every day, to send good people into Dave's life – those who would see him as God's creature and treat him with dignity and respect that we all deserve. I also prayed for me, for God to give me new eyes every time I need them, so I don't miss opportunities for showing compassion, understanding, and God's love to those who need it most. Even if they make my life difficult, and my job tedious and frustrating.

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