I was sitting in seat at a North Carolina airport and awaiting a new flight because my original flight was delayed for several hours. I was on my way home after a crisis intervention trip that had been difficult from the beginning. At best, I was tired. I was spiritually, physically and emotionally drained. Allowing myself to exhale, I took in another deep breath to rinse myself of all that happened in the last two days.
In an effort to clear my mind and find a sense of relief, I faced my way to a large window with beautiful view of trees in the distance and the calmness of a southern sunset. I looked out at a series of parked airplanes that stood dormant after being taxied up their gates. Below the planes, busy men in coverall uniforms ran back and forth and drove lift trucks. The planes themselves, however, rested for their next trip like huge mechanical horses feeding at their stalls and awaiting departure.
I was emotional, of course, drained too and rundown. I began typing my thoughts to help me decompress and ready myself for the flight home. I needed to clear my head because otherwise, I was stuck in the concerns of a mental health program and thinking about the faces I had just seen earlier that day. I thought about how young they were and the things these kids have seen. It was insane to think of them in their little bodies, but yet, they had already lived such big, uncontrollable lives.
Nearby, a somewhat husky old woman sat in one of the opposing seats. She had short gray hair, parted to the side, appearing somewhat mountain-like, and woodsy. Same as the rest of us, the talkative old woman sat in the seats at the gate and awaiting the news of her changed departure.
The curious old woman had tried to start conversation with literally everybody else with little to no success. Most of the others at the gate area were unhappy and complaining about the delays. There was bickering between other passengers and briefly loud arguments between passengers and uninformed employees of the airline. However, the elderly woman remained pleasant and did not seem to mind the delay. I suppose she saw this as a reason to interact with others. And as luck would have it, now it was my turn to interact with the woman.
I was tired and hungry. I was anxious to be home and to sleep in my bed. And although I was surrounded by places to eat, the food they served was foods that I choose stay away from. In fairness, I was less than my usual self. I was certainly less enthusiastic to have a conversation but the older woman was persistent.
Eventually, I gave in
She was an interesting woman, God-fearing, and wholesome with decades of experience. She was unique to say the least. But she was extremely friendly and very interested in me and my trip.
She had asked about my reasons for being in North Carolina and whether my trip was business or pleasure. When I gave the woman a brief description, her eyes turned grandmotherly. She was sad to hear the details but she was also loving and kind. In true, Grandmother fashion, the woman took on a Holy attitude and offered a quick sentiment of warmth and prayer.
“It’s not easy to be different,” said the old woman. “trust me, I know,” she continued proudly. Then the woman told me an interesting story about why God made pigs different with tails like little curlicues. She discussed the words “Purpose” and “Meaning.”
Then she suggested everything we encounter in life has both a purpose and a meaning. She mentioned everything, including this flight delay, had a time and a reason.
“I’m going to pray for you,” she said with an understanding smile. Her smile was a Grandmother’s smile. She was the matriarch, the respected elder; the one with loving a comforting approach. When she offered her prayer, she said this as if she could read through me. She spoke to me as if she could literally feel the conflict and the inner struggle and the pain in my hearts. It was clear for her to see the way I felt on my own about this topic. And without description of my past, the kind woman comforted me by saying, “I don’t know who you were in your life but I can sure see who you are now,” which left me with a strange feeling of exposure. This feeling was the kind we feel as children when stuck in personal shame until Mother comes around to nurture us with warmth and love. It was bitter and beautiful at the same time, like a raw, unfiltered expression of love so pure and so bright that it blinds the eye just to see it.
I had begun my trip with a morning departure that was scheduled to leave out of Newark Airport. This flight was supposed to take off before a flash snowstorm hit in the New York/New Jersey area. However, upon boarding, my flight was cancelled due to a mechanical problem. Therefore, I had to make my way over to one of the airline’s associates to make a new arrangement. I tried my best to change my plans and secure a new flight because time was crucial in this case.
I was on my way to North Carolina to interact with a young female whose story was familiar to me. I was scheduled to arrive at a mental health facility for a crisis intervention. The young girl was only 17 years-old. As a result of a failed attempt at suicide, the girl was mandated to a short term facility; however, she had no interest in following through with the continuation of treatment. No, the young girl had plans of her own, which she openly expressed to her mother in not such kind words.
The mother was also familiar to me. I knew them both very well and I had a special interest in this case. Therefore, in an effort to make my schedule, I explained part of the details and the severity of this case to one of the airline’s representatives.
I leaned in hard. And I leaned in hard enough to bring a tear to the representative’s eye.
(Or so I thought)
I was placed in a car and heading fast to LaGuardia airport to make my way out from there in a first class seat. However, the flash storm hit us in an odd way. The sky opened up with a strange wintery mix that caused more havoc than a blizzard of much worse proportion. Unfortunately, by the time I arrived at LaGuardia, my flight was cancelled.
When I asked what happened to my flight, I was addressed by an arrogant little man, catty and cruel, and saying things to me like, “Do I look like I control the weather? No, I don’t look like I control the weather because I don’t control the weather.”
Then he explained the cancellation process and disclaimers with regards to weather related problems. But mine began as a mechanically related problem; therefore, the airline had to make arrangements for me to get where I needed to be.
Next, I was in a cab again. This time, I was sitting in the backseat of a taxi that smelled from cologne and weaving through the midday congested traffic to reach John F. Kennedy Airport. Although unkind and confrontational, the representative secured a flight for me that would take me close enough to my destination. At least, this way I could fly in, land, rent a car from a different location and drive to the facility. However, upon my arrival at J.F.K., I learned that this flight was severely delayed as well.
As a consolation, I was given a free hotel room and it was negotiated for the airline to reimburse me for my rental fees, which, unfortunately, the reimbursement never came through. Nevertheless, they fed me with a voucher to a restaurant and my hotel accommodations were stepped up in class.
My position in this trip was to meet with the social worker in charge as a representative of the family. Then I was to schedule a trip to Charlotte for the young girl to go into a long-term, inpatient facility that could better suit the young girl’s needs. But even the best laid plans are nothing more than the best made plans. Apparently, fate had other ideas. I arrived late and missed the opportunity to speak with the clinician in charge. I was allowed my visit, however, it was made clear that my visit would be supervised by a member of the nursing staff.
By morning, I made my way to a small town I had never heard of before. I was driving alone down unfamiliar roads and experiencing new, unfamiliar territory. I was in a part of the country I had never seen before. The world looked different to me. Perhaps, my trip looked different to me. I was grateful to be where I was because regardless to the struggle to make my appointment, still, I made my appointments and I learned new ways to negotiate the hurdles that come with daily life.
Although this was all relatively new to me, this trip is one that made me realized the work I want to do in my life. Eventually, in spite of the weather and in spite of all the delays, in spite of less than kind airline employees, and in spite of my struggle to understand the G.P.S. directions, I made my way and arrived at the facility.
Heading in, I introduced myself at the front desk and then made my way through the double doors, through the secured area, and into another room where I would be allowed to conduct my interview. As informed, I was accompanied by one of the nursing staff due to rules of mandatory supervision. The nurse was kind but quiet. She was somewhat young and certainly much younger than me. The nurse had clear dark skin with deep brown, almond shaped eyes, that reminded me of a painting I once saw of a Nubian princess. She wore dark blue scrubs with her long curly hair up and pinned back in a ponytail.
I sat alone for a while until the young girl joined me in the room. Then we sat together near the window in a small family room. Together, the young girl detailed a few items of her troubled history to guide her towards a different decision.
I have always found motivational interviewing to be an interesting method. I showed interest and empathy. I did not argue or respond to resistance. I did not direct or instruct. Instead, I asked questions. That’s all. I asked questions in a way that drew the young girl to her own conclusions. I did not preach about the consequences of her decisions. I did not discuss right or wrong, good or bad. Instead, I asked questions in an interested manner. We discussed the responses of the legal system. We talked about the pros and cons of each of her ideas with no judgement. We talked about the consideration of jail as it relates to the consideration to a treatment facility. We discussed this plan intellectually rather than an emotionally. And plainly, we discussed the ability to live a better life and the right to her refusal.
We spoke logically and strategically. However, it was clear to me that although the young girl knew the best answers, still, she was ambivalent to change her intention to go off and run away.
Although I am detached in this scenario, there is something that hurts me about this. I cannot say it in any other way other than this hurts me. What I saw was painful. This was not painful because of my familiarity to the young girl and her mother. But more so, this hurts me to see people willingly choose to destroy their lives in a slow, self-destructive way. It is hard to see people choose the slow forms of self-destructive suicide, euthanizing them slowly and tragically, which is why I try to attack this fight from a different direction.
Instead, of discussing the client’s behaviors; very openly, I discussed the emotional truths behind the decisions of my own. I focused on the feelings of desperation. I talked about how tired I was of living in a life I no longer wanted. I did not compare scars or tell war stories. Instead, I discussed the reasons behind my behaviors. I talked about the true reasons why I acted the way I did. I did not hold back nor did I over-dramatize my story. I spoke honestly, with tears in my eyes, and I expressed what it was like for me in my hardest times.
Meanwhile, the accompanying nurse sat quietly in the corner. When the young girl cried, she reached for a hug, to which I was asked not to come in contact; however, when I looked to see if this was okay with the nurse, I noticed the woman wiping away tears of her own. She nodded acceptingly and allowed for the bending of the rules. She smiled and then laughed in an unexpectedly fashion. “You should come down her more often,” invited the nurse.
“Not a problem,” I expressed, and rather than have her shadow our conversation, we invited the nurse in to the conversation.
Out of any, this was my proudest intervention. Nevertheless, the girl agreed to new terms. She had other problems that happened afterwards, but as I saw it and as the mother chose to see it; this could have been much worse. The girl could have gone back to the streets and made her way to an early grave. Instead, she was protected for at least a little while longer. That is, of course, until the insurance company that pays for facilities like this decided against the plan and scheduled the girl for outpatient, in-home visits.
I was contemplating this journey and the details of my trip while sitting in the airport and typing out my frustration. I thought to myself about the trips I’ve taken to other parts of the country and the unexpected snags and snares that come with life on life’s terms. I sat there in the airport, awaiting my trip home, and I thought about the beauty of that word: Home.
There is no word more beautiful to me.
My home is the reason why I choose to better myself. I do what I do in order to make my life better. I do what I do to improve my home. And someday, I know my home will grow bigger. Someday, I know I will open my own farm, which will be modeled from the same farm that I lived on when I was 17. Someday, I will walk out on my porch and see this vision, which I have been building in my mind.
I will see the home I’ve built. I will see the pastures. I will see the school, which I’ve created for students that need a different kind of attention. I will see this dream I have nurtured for many years now —and although this dream was dormant for a while, it is still alive and well and more awake than ever before.
I don’t like sickness . . .
It hurts me
And I don’t like being hurt either
So as I see it.
I might as well fight back