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Written by Amber Lobdell, CCRI Caregiver

I can’t even remember where it was, but I definitely remember the quote on one of those flip calendars on someone’s desk. It was from Mother Teresa, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.”

I thought of this again when I was in the Black Hills watching the rain fall on the deck filling in knots and grooves. And my daughter was kneeling over a puzzle as my son’s deep, restful breathing was amplified on the baby monitor. It was some of the first quiet time I’d had in days—watching my daughter arranging pieces. I was tired, yet deep-thinking, looking at how each puzzle piece lacked what another piece had. And every single piece had what another needed.  And then there was the rain—filling the cracks in the earth, finding a place to go.

When I tell someone I work with people who have disabilities, sometimes I get a “oh, bless your heart” or “you’re an angel” or “I don’t know how you do it.” And usually it’s someone in passing and I wish I could have had a more articulate response. Usually, I mutter a  quick, “Oh thanks, I really love it.”  But here’s what I want to say:

Before I started my career as a DSP, I had deep cracks and grooves. I’m not talking about excessively dry skin or like…holes in me like swiss cheese. I suppose as Mother Teresa would’ve said—I had no peace. I didn’t know where I belonged, I didn’t know what to do with my gifts or even what they were.

For the people I serve, I am the missing piece that helps them get where they want to go. I am a mode of transportation, a steady arm to hold when you’re getting into the tub. A shoulder to hold when you want to dance, or to cry on. A hand to hold at a doctor appointment. I am not an angel or a saint. I am a human helping a human. I am helping fill in some cracks. I am a tool they can use to live the lives they deserve and the lives of their dreams. But in doing so, we also became family.

For me, they are the missing piece (or…peace) that constantly teaches me how to live life joyfully and without restraint. For someone who doesn’t know Brad, they may see a gentleman in a wheelchair and think that that is limiting. In the community, some have even expressed pity. While Brad was ordering at McDonald’s a woman pulled me aside and said, “oh I so feel for him. It must be hard to be stuck in a wheelchair.” And yet to me, Brad is one of the free-est souls I know. He is completely himself, brave, strong, free, confident. He doesn’t complain, he doesn’t hold back. He gets where he needs to go. He filled in the part of me that put limits on myself because of my anxiety, my own self consciousness. He led by example and not “in spite of” his wheelchair. With my client Dave, he brought back to me part of myself that I lost. The playful side that still gets Happy Meals. The freedom of choosing colors not based on what they’re “supposed to be” when I’m drawing. And Lane is a constant reminder of what it is to be a loyal friend, a hard worker, stubborn for what you believe in. He is someone who cries with you, laughs with you, someone who is your biggest cheerleader. Greg has healed the part of me that forgot how to take my time sipping coffee and sitting in a porch swing watching the leaves flicker between shadows and sunlight in the wind. But also to dance however I feel inclined and not to take life (or films…I’m thinking of Greg’s little smile while watching Sharknado) too seriously.

I don’t think it’s abnormal to see people with different ways of getting around and communicating and wonder what it’s like, or wish they had it easier. But there are different ways of getting around, thinking, speaking, and different ways to be happy.

Even at home, I think of me and my husband. He is a software engineer. Our careers are seemingly very different. He works from home and sometimes when I walk past the silhouette of his back facing the computer in total isolation—finding the missing semicolon he needs to make the code run smoothly—I wonder how he can do that all day. I am someone who still uses a paper calendar. I don’t know how to even make a spreadsheet. Yet code is a language he is fluent in, mending programs behind the scenes to make life easier for other people. Maybe we really aren’t different at all. We just have different ways of helping. Him in code repair and me in a more in-your-face way. Some things click for people in places it doesn’t for others. Isn’t it so much more beautiful that no single person has the tools to be complete in every way but when we connect we are stronger as a whole? And isn’t it beautiful that one person, fluent in code, can make a program for countless individuals who were previously unable to use words to use them to communicate on an iPad for the first time?

I’m aware that I sound like those stereotypical essays that go, “I was expecting to make a change, but they changed me”…it’s just the truth. There is a big, noticeable, deep change in me since I began this career. Including my worldview or my use of the word “normal.” Now that’s just a setting on the dryer.

It’s the whole rain-healing-the-earth, puzzle-piece-finding-its-home, belonging-to-each-other kind of peace that I have found.

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