If you haven’t figured it out by now I have this strange tendency to turn every terrible event in my life into a teaching moment for my interpreting students.
In January 2017, I was hit with severe abdominal pain and had to go to the emergency room. Eleven days in the hospital later the surgeons removed 7 inches of my sigmoid colon.
On that first night in the emergency room I sent an email to the students in my medical interpreting class. I told him where I was, described my symptoms briefly and asked them to figure out which body systems might be involved with the pain I was presenting and to tell me what questions they would expect the doctors and nurses to ask if they were interpreting for this.
I tend do it with every kind of trouble or trauma in my life, no matter how big or small, and I’m doing it again. This time with a lesson I got from our family psychiatrist.
Oh, by the way we have a family psychiatrist.
Shocker, I know.
I am acutely aware that having a family psychiatrist says a lot about our family, but I’m not one-hundred percent sure exactly what it says.
Aunt SuperTam calls him our guardian angel. I think it’s an apt description. But, the fact that our guardian angel is a psychiatrist is still worth a nose wrinkle.
There are two main themes in artwork that depicts angels. Angels are usually either holding a symbol of peace, like a dove or an olive branch, or they are holding sword.
Yep. Still a good analogy for Richard.
Often he has guided me through tough times and helped me understand that I was ok by cutting through the delusions and false narratives I set up in order to avoid my real world issues. Once these are gone he shows me how to resolve problems without these self-imposed blinders clouding my vision.
A little history. I first met Richard many many years ago while I was interpreting for a conference. He introduced himself and told me that his son is Deaf (oddly I knew another of his sons from a summer theatre camp I taught). After some small talk Richard asked me if I knew that I had ADHD.
I laughed because I had been tested many times in elementary school for all kinds of different issues (because, whoa baby, I had issues) and the results always came back “inconclusive.” The higher minds of education finally determined that I was “clinically obnoxious” and left it at that.
Anyway, Richard was not dissuaded by my weird response. He told me that he had been watching me during the conference and, while I was interpreting I was laser focused and exact, but when I switched out with my team I did the “sitting in a chair” equivalent of pacing like a caged tiger. If I could have rolled on the floor I would have.
Dang. He’s good.
Then he offered me a deal. A deal that literally changed everything for me.
He had never really learned to Sign (these were the days when the school for the Deaf discouraged parents from learning ASL). He wanted to communicate better with his son, so, if I would come to his office each week and tutor him in ASL he would walk me through the diagnosis and treatment for my ADHD.
And the rest as they say is history.
Richard took me through the testing process and started me on meds. Each week, after the ASL lesson, he would ask me what had happened with me since we last talked.
I would say, “this happened…”
He would reply, “ok, that is a function of the meds, we just need to adjust the dose. What else?”
“Well,” I would report, “my wife and I argued about…”
“Ah,” he would say, “that is a result of a habitual coping mechanism that is now unnecessary. For years that behavior was needed for you and your wife to accomplish a task, now that you are medicated and getting regular treatment you don’t need that behavior, but it’s still a habit, so you two need to talk about your coping mechanisms when you identify them and figure out how to resolve them together. Ok, what else?”
“Well,” I replied, “That, also happened…”
Richard would sit forward, look me in the eye, and in the kindest voice you ever heard say, “that, my friend, happened because you are a jerk (DANG HE’s GOOD). I’ve got no pill for jerk. You’re on your own figuring out that one.”
An angel with an olive branch in one hand and a sword in the other.
On the day my son died Richard showed up at our house in the afternoon and stayed until well after midnight. Then he showed up the next day and did it all again.
It was on the second day that he told me something that applies to so many situations in life I don’t know how I got along without it before. Since then I have passed this advice on three times to interpreters who came to me to work through issues on the job (four times in total because one other interpreter contacted me to discuss a personal issue, but it applied just the same).
That night Richard and I were talking and I said, “if only I had…”
“Stop!” He said.
I was a little taken aback.
Richard’s voice softened and he said, “lift up your head. I mean it. Physically look up.”
“Now,” he continued,”look around and realize this is where you are. If you look behind you you will see paths, all kinds of twisting and turning paths, some intersect and some don’t. These are all the paths you could have taken. You could have made any number of choices and that would have placed you one or another of these paths. If you had changed your mind at any moment you may have taken a different path. But, if you look, if you really look at each of these paths you will realize that each and every one of them leads to right here, because this is where you are.
It doesn’t matter now which one you chose then because it eventually would lead right here, because this is where you are.”
He made sure I was still with him and continued. “This is the place, right here, from which you have to move forward. This place. Right here. Right now. Because this is where you are.
Even if you could go back and wander those paths, you would wander in circles and each time you would find out that you ended up right here. Because this is where you are.
Stop looking back there seeking something that is somewhere in front of you. You won’t find peace back there, or understanding or anything you are looking for. They weren’t there when you were walking those paths before and they aren’t there now. What you are looking for is that way, forward from the place where you are now.”
“You may look back at the path you took in order to figure out the warning signs you missed or to learn from mistakes you may have made along the way to help you not make those same mistakes moving forward. But don’t go back there seeking a different outcome, you won’t find it. Because no matter which path you would chose, it will still lead to right here, because, look around, this is where you are.”
Like I said, that changed my thinking about a lot of things. It made me aware of how often I relieve my mistakes, not to learn from them, but to try to live them out differently in my head trying to force different outcome. But I never can.
On three different occasions interpreters sat in my office crying, one sobbing, because something happened and their appointment went seriously sideways. As we talked over the better and the less effective choices they made inevitably they would say “if only I had…”
Each time I said, “Stop! Look up…”
Because no matter which path they took then, each one led to right here, right now. Because, look around, this is where we are.