Saturday, 24 January 2015

Celebrating Royalty and Nobility in Ordinary Caregiving

“So Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me, and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom.” Thomas Merton

Caregivers like me know how the four walls of home can sometimes close in and feel like a prison.  How to find freedom, satisfaction, meaning and joy within those walls was the subject of my book, "The Four Walls of My Freedom: Lessons I've Learned From a Life of Caregiving".  



Thomas Merton was an American Catholic writer and mystic.  He entered the Abbey of Our Lady of Gethsemani in rural Kentucky on December 10, 1941 to begin a life of solitude and contemplation.  In his hugely popular book, "The Seven Story Mountain", he described that moment this way: "...So Brother Matthew locked the gate behind me, and I was enclosed in the four walls of my new freedom." I did find a sense of personal freedom and meaning in the ordinary tasks of caring over years.  I learned to look more carefully, listen more intently, feel more acutely.  I learned to celebrate the ordinary.

This week, I've been following an inspiring story about celebrating the ordinary on the internet.  It all started with this posting on the popular site, Humans of New York



Then this story appeared:



A couple days back, I posted the portrait of a young man who described an influential principal in his life by the name of Ms. Lopez. Yesterday I was fortunate to meet Ms. Lopez at her school, Mott Hall Bridges Academy.

“This is a neighborhood that doesn’t necessarily expect much from our children, so at Mott Hall Bridges Academy we set our expectations very high. We don’t call the children ‘students,’ we call them ‘scholars.’ Our color is purple. Our scholars wear purple and so do our staff. Because purple is the color of royalty. I want my scholars to know that even if they live in a housing project, they are part of a royal lineage going back to great African kings and queens. They belong to a group of individuals who invented astronomy and math. And they belong to a group of individuals who have endured so much history and still overcome. When you tell people you’re from Brownsville, their face cringes up. But there are children here that need to know that they are expected to succeed.”



And I thought, we are like the children at Mott Hall Bridges Academy - we may be invisible and ordinary on the outside, but we are ROYAL.  We too, "have endured so much history and still overcome." 

So, the next time you are feeling invisible and unappreciated, imagine Ms. Lopez' voice in your head:

"You are a nurturer, an enabler.  When the dignity of someone you love is under threat, you restore it.  You are a healer.  Your hands soothe and your voice comforts.  You are a conjurer!  When shopping for food has been put aside for more important tasks, you find something nourishing to create from what's left over.  Never forget, the worth of a life is measured in how much love we have given, because what we give will come back to fill our hearts tenfold."

Today, let us recognize and celebrate the dignity, value and even royalty of ordinary caregiving. Because Ms. Lopez would say that there's nothing ordinary about it. 

THE FOUR WALLS OF MY FREEDOM: LESSONS I'VE LEARNED FROM A LIFE OF CAREGIVING (HOUSE OF ANANSI PRESS, 2014) IS AVAILABLE FROM ALL MAJOR BOOKSELLERS IN THE USA AND CANADA

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