Friday, April 20, 2012

The Stuff That Matters

*Today marks the official end of my first year of college, studying Developmental Services.

 I have learned so much these past nine months: from passionate, wise and dedicated professors who challenged me every day, and from passionate, empathetic and hilarious classmates who did the same.

A month ago, I began a work placement - a short one, offering a brief glimpse into what it ACTUALLY means to support people with disabilities, once books and tests and grades have been tucked away.

This is where I learned the most important lessons:

I've been doing a placement (work-study thing, for my American readers) for my college program. For the past four weeks, I've spent my day at a "Day Program" for adults with developmental disabilities.

Yesterday afternoon, I said goodbye to these incredible people  - some 50 men and women who've taught me so very much about developmental services. About resilience, courage, strength and life.

For the past four weeks, I've had my heart touched and broken, every. single. day, sometimes in the same moment. I cannot describe those I supported here, because it would be a violation of so many things. But I can share the lessons they tucked into my heart -  some by speaking, some by not, all by welcoming me into their lives, if only for a little while:

1. The power of a smile - be it wide, shy, beaming or toothless - is beyond measure:

I was nervous, that first day. Terrified, actually, until a woman I'd never met - and who does not speak - gently placed her fingertips on either side of her lips and pushed up, grinning. Understanding, I burst out laughing and stuck out my hand to shake hers in thanks. Instead, she brought my forehead down to her lips, kissed me soundly there and then, without a word, shuffled off.

Imagine the strife we might avoid if this was how we, as a society, offered welcome...

2. We are all of us, the tellers of our own story:

Some people will spill every thought in their head within minutes of meeting someone new. Others keep their stories close and dole them out slowly, carefully, with learned wariness. Some tell the stories of their lives without words.

All of them - indeed all of us - deserve to be heard by a rapt and loving audience. All of us deserve to be heard, even when - perhaps especially when - we are silent.

3. Connection matters:

Sometimes, the most incredible moments are the small, seemingly insignificant ones. Last Wednesday, I took a dance with M, who cannot hear and doesn't speak,  but whose eyes held mine intently as we swayed to the music together.

I do not sign, officially, but instead motioned for him to relax his hand in mine and to move my body with gentle pressure on my hip. Something sparked there, in his eyes, as he realized that I was asking him to lead me. I was trusting him to guide me, instead of the other way around and for once brief, brilliant moment...he smiled. Had I not been looking directly at him, I might have missed it. For that glimpse of his heart and that single moment of absolute grace, I am so thankful.

4. Love matters:

Within days of beginning placement,  I was gobsmacked to realize that I could tell - from among these strangers - who had been well-loved in this life...and who had not. I have no words to describe how that looks, unloved-ness, except to report that it is common in many devalued groups, not just those who are disabled. Unlovedness is a state of being for many, especially foster children, people who are homeless, the desperately poor, our forgotten elderly...

Of everything I've learned, will learn or will ever otherwise know in this field, in this life, I have seen that love truly matters. It really does change the world - for better and for worse - one person at a time.

And you?
How has a stranger offered you a glimpse into their heart...and changed yours?


  1. Oh Liz - always writing such beautiful and honest things.

    I praise you for posting your thoughts and recognizing the good and bad things that happen when you make connections. You have a wonderful, colorful heart and have no doubt that you will do good things.

    I learned on placement my limitations. I learned that it's something I need to work through and that I cannot do everything. Thanks for putting your thoughts down, it was well said :)

    1. Thanks Renee! You're so right about the limitations thing. Here we were, prepared to change to I realize that it's not the big, grand gestures. Sometimes, changing the world means making a single moment less-worse.

      Humbling but important - in this field, and in life.

      Thanks so much for popping over and sharing your thoughts! xo

  2. Beautifuly written Liz...

    What I learned is that everybody needs a chance to be "normal". To have the things we take for granted, like a cell phone that they carry around with them and pretend to use when its not even hooked up, they do that so they can "fit in". to get a meaningful job and not a greater at walmart or let them join the board of directors at the agency they are being supported by. JUST GIVE THEM A CHANCE.

  3. Oh, Leigh-Ann, you're so right. EVERYONE deserves a chance. EVERYONE deserves. Period.

    And you raise a good point - why NOT allow someone to join the BOD for the agency they use? Seems like it would make the MOST sense, actually.

    Thanks for commenting, my friend. xo

  4. Beautiful Liz... iv learned so much in 4 weeks about the people being supported, about this field and mostly about myself and how im going to carry on the best support I can to others. I could write a novel about what iv learned by unfortunately im on my phone, and we def need to get together and talk! Iv learned that regardless of how shitty the agency is, the other employees, the activities that are put together by the head person, no matter how shitty is it iv learned that I cant let it effect the way that im going to be supporting the people, iv learned the best way to get through it is keep an open mind and grow a pair of balls! Because unfortunately there is so many people who cant communicate for themselves so its important that we do for them, regardless if the employee is going to get pissed off at what is said. Its their lives and they deserve to have respect and to have a goof quality of life. I have learned so much i cant even comprehend everything! But all I know is this is a tough field involving very loving , caring, people who change our out look our love our everything just by their smile, their hug, their tears! We are a great group of students ready to be the best DSW'S and i cant wait. Oh and iv learned just how sensitive I am, and howmuch patience I have.

    1. "Keep an open mind and grow a pair of balls!"

      You said it, sister! Words of wisdom that applies to many areas of life. We ARE a great group of students - am so very pleased to be sharing this journey with you, Katelynn.


  5. Good*** opps sorry!!! Stupid touch phone lol..

  6. Liz, I just love your warm, wonderful posts. Congratulations. And thank you for treating everyone with civility. Can you imagine the world if everyone treated people the way that you do?

    1. The world would be a much different place, that's for sure, if we began each day with gentleness and respect for everyone we meet.

      Thanks for popping over, Renee!

  7. Dear Liz: You have indeed had some passionate and wise teachers, the people who you supported on placement. Your open heart has been able to absorb some important lessons. The thing I love about our field is that not only do these lessons serve you well as a DSW but even more so as a human being - kindness, generosity, resilience, courage, grace, wordless eloquence and, yes, love.

  8. So very true, dear Teacher. They taught me all of the best stuff and you're absolutely right - the lessons they offer spill over into so many areas of my life, of all of our lives.

    It has been a truly transformative journey thus far - so looking forward to the future, for all of us!