Thanksgiving Reflection About Depression
Well, it is that time of year again. We seem to just gloss right over Thanksgiving and rush head long into Christmas. I don't know about you but every year I experience depression during this time of year. I have so many memories of traumatic holidays to combat. Yet there are happy memories too and moments where I feel true gratitude. Here is a story I wrote about one of those times where grace is sometimes found in the most unlikely settings. My wish for you is that despite any sadness or depression you may be experiencing right now, that you can also find joy as well. And now I present to you my Thanksgiving story...
Joe was my client, as we called the folk who had disabilities at the developmental day program where I worked Joe was a short little guy, no taller than myself, very sprightly, and almost elfish in his appearance. He was older in years with a few gray hairs sprouting from his head. Joe had been at the day program for years upon years, longer than I had been alive.
Joe had a very quick manner. He was brisk with his gait and his words tumbled out of his mouth faster than his tongue would allow. His eyes would dart nervously past you as he made attempts at conversation.
Joe lived with his sister who took him in after his parents died. They lived together in the poor section of town, living on both welfare and Joe’s disability checks.
I remember that, at the time I was helping Joe, I was at a point of great dissatisfaction with my job. I felt there was no room to grow in my career, and more so I was feeling the beginnings of burn out. I was also depressed. It seemed that every holiday season, beginning the week before Thanksgiving, I would always find myself in the depths of a depressive episode. Depressed or not life does go on and one has to make a living and go to work.
Part of our job was to do community training with our clients. We would coach our folks to take part in their community, make some small purchases and/or dine at small fast food restaurants. Just about every day I would make a trek to Roy Roger’s restaurant during lunch, which was located in the basement of the Cathedral of Learning on the campus of the University of Pittsburgh.
I personally hated Roy Roger’s restaurant. I hated the smell. I hated the food. I hated that it was located in a windowless basement (our day program was also located in a basement but of a church). Roy Rogers was fast becoming a greasy smelling symbol of my personal resentment of a job where I worked and ate in basements all day. There were certain clients I took to Roy Rogers including those who had a specific goal for making purchases in the community. I also took the folk who brought money to go out for lunch. I seldom took Joe because he never had money and he always brought a packed lunch.
One day I decided to treat Joe to lunch at Roy Rogers. He was delighted. One thing about Joe was he had a love affair with food. There was no food that I knew of that he did not like. He was known to steal from other people's lunches to get more to eat. He was a skinny little thing so I don't know where it all went. I suspect he didn't get too much to eat at home. So off we went to Roy Rogers and he and I walked silently towards our destination. I was into my head, not really thinking a whole lot about the person walking beside me.
We ordered our food and chose a small table to sit down. I was about to eat when I noticed that Joe was pausing. He usually wolfed down his food at the day program, so I wondered what was going on. Then I saw him bow his head and begin to pray. I put the chicken leg down from my open mouth and sat there watching in amazement. Joe was saying grace. Had he done this at the day program and why had I not noticed? This grace was not rote or part of some memorized ritual. He was saying thank you for specific things and one of the things he was thankful for was that I had taken him to Roy Rogers. I was truly amazed. I had been with Joe for over a year and I didn't know he said grace. I felt oblivious to Joe as a person.
I quickly came to the conclusion that we get so caught up in our own agendas that it becomes far too easy for people to disappear from our emotional radar. All of the work at the day program was geared towards teaching skills and either increasing or decreasing behaviors. We were so driven towards the achievement of "goals," that we forgot to see the person behind our collections of data.
I looked at Joe as if for the first time.
Something about his small figure bent over his plate of Roy Rogers chicken, hands in prayer, touched me in a most profound way. This was a big deal to him. He probably didn't get to go out much and certainly not to a restaurant. I knew that he was so poor he didn't even have a fan in his room for the hot and humid Pittsburgh summers. I had once sent one of my old fans along with him on his cab ride home and he was more than grateful. All the things I could easily take for granted in my life, including ordering a plate full of greasy fried chicken and runny mashed potatoes, was full of meaning for Joe. A fan, fried chicken, or even a walk on a cold gray November day with a grumpy health care worker were all cause for celebration to Joe.
I forgot all about my job duties of collecting data on Joe’s skills at ordering off the fast food menu or his ability to collect the appropriate change with 100 percent accuracy, and had a real honest to goodness conversation with the man. I wanted to hear more about what he believed and why. I wanted to know about his saying grace. He told me he said it every day. I asked him what he thought about God and Joe began to tell me how he believed that God had saved his life. Joe believed that he wouldn't be alive if it weren't for the grace of God. He told the story of how he was born prematurely and sick and almost died when he was a young boy. Joe had faith that God was always looking out for him and now I had begun to believe it too. I pictured Joe in his sparse bedroom kneeling before his bed, happy to have experienced yet another day.
I was humbled by the purity of Joe’s faith.
I began to see that it was me who was more limited than my clients with supposed mental limitations. I had so much clutter in my mind consisting of expectations of how I thought my life should be. I was so focused upon what I thought should make me happy that I had forgotten to focus on what is. I had forgotten the simple pleasures. I had forgotten how to be present. I had forgotten to be *with* another person to see them as they really are. I had forgotten to be open to opportunity which life grants to us nearly everyday. And most of all I had forgotten what it is like to feel grateful.
Joe reminds me.
I try every day...not to forget.