This poem came out of the September 16, 2014 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by DW users mdlbear, jazzyjj, and LJ user Zianuray. It also fills the "physical imperfections" square in my 9-1-14 card for the ladiesbingo fest and the "loss of limb / limb function" square in my 7-31-14 card for the hc_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the series P.I.E.
"Halfway to Heaven"
It wasn't always the same place
or the same activity, but she
gave at least one day per month
to the service of other people.
One time it might be a food drive
and the next month coats.
She helped with fundraising
for policevets and firefighters.
Sometimes people wondered
why a woman in a wheelchair
would volunteer -- would be
the one helping, instead of helped.
Brenda always explained,
"Helping others helps me."
It was something that she learned
when the damage was still relatively new,
the wounds closed but not fully healed,
the choice fresh and bitter in front of her:
she could walk with crutches
and be in pain most or all of the time,
risking further injury over the years;
or she could use a wheelchair
and not be in pain or at risk.
Brenda hated both,
but when she moved into
the halfway house,
she made herself go out
and circle the block each day,
alternating between the options
in attempt to see which suited her better.
There were actually two halfway houses,
one for people with physical challenges
and one across the street for mental,
so it wasn't rare for the residents to meet.
One day Brenda stopped to rest
on a yellow bench, her crutches
leaned against the end of it.
Another woman sat down on the far end,
someone Brenda did not know but
recognized from the house across the street.
"Would you like a hug?" the woman asked.
"You kind of look like you could use one."
Brenda couldn't remember the last time
someone had touched her in a fond way --
not her family, not her therapists --
just a hug between friends.
"Yeah," she said, "I could use a hug."
They hugged, and it was warm and soft,
and neither of them particularly wanted to let go,
so they stayed there on the bench and cuddled.
Eventually they sat up again, and
the woman said, "Hi. I'm Nadia.
I have depression."
"I'm Brenda." She waved a hand.
"I have legs, more or less.
So you just ... offer hugs?"
"Sometimes," Nadia said.
"It's on a list of exercises to do
for interpreting emotional cues
and connecting with people."
"I guess it does that," Brenda said.
She noticed Nadia's t-shirt then,
red fabric printed with the words,
Need prayer? (ask me ... don't be shy).
"You're looking at my shirt,"
Nadia said. "Want to talk about it?"
"I'm not really very religious,"
Brenda said. She was curious, though.
People had pounced on her with prayers
more than once, but this silent offer was new.
"I memorized some nondenominational
and philosophical things too," Nadia said.
Brenda hadn't even known there were
things like that; she'd only heard
religious prayers, and hadn't been impressed.
"Okay, this I have to hear," she said.
"Bless me with laughter and an easy smile
May I put away cares more easily, and relax
May I know the great healing powers of laughter ..."
Nadia said, her voice low and sweet.
Laughter was something else that Brenda
had largely forgotten about, and could use more of.
"Thanks," she said when Nadia finished.
"Do you want to come to my room and
watch a comedy or something?"
"Maybe a short cartoon," Nadia said.
"I probably won't have energy for more.
Depression makes it hard for me
to be around people very long."
"Yeah," Brenda said.
"Sometimes I feel like that too."
They walked back to the halfway house,
Nadia slowing her steps to pace Brenda.
"It's nice of you to invite me," Nadia said.
"I don't get much company," Brenda said.
"I'm still wondering why you even
stopped by the bench today."
"When I help other people,
even if it's just a smile or a hug,
it makes me feel a bit better,"
Nadia explained. "So every day
I try to do one nice thing that
reaches out to someone else."
"Like me going around the block,"
Brenda murmured. "One thing at a time."
"Volunteering is good for that --
there's a garden group but I kill plants,
and a craft group but I'm clumsy --
hugs and prayers, I know how to do,"
Nadia said. "I figure if each person
can get halfway to heaven, then we
can help each other the rest of the way."
In Brenda's room, they found
a cartoon on television to watch.
They both managed to laugh a little,
and if it sounded rusty, well,
there was nobody else to hear.
By the end of it, Nadia was,
as she put it, "all peopled out,"
but Brenda was still glad
to have connected with her.
After that, Brenda tried to do
something each day that was
more than just dragging herself
from morning to evening.
She made an effort to smile more.
If there was litter on the ground
by the benches where she rested,
she picked it up to throw away.
When her halfway house did a fundraiser,
Brenda volunteered to look through
the old records to see if she could spot
patterns in people's donations, because
she'd always done well with information.
That year they set a new record,
which made her feel proud.
As Brenda's arms got stronger,
she realized that wheeling the chair was
getting easier than hobbling with crutches,
so she used the wheelchair two days out of three.
Then there was the time when
Brenda was leaning on a door for support
and someone yanked it out of her grip
caroling, "Here, let me get that for you!"
so that she lost her balance --
that helped her decide, too.
She came up with a mail-sorting routine
for the office at the halfway house,
which they shared across the street,
which made Nadia grin at her.
Sometimes people argued with Brenda
about what she could or couldn't do,
and other times it was hard to tell for sure
because she was still learning
where her new limits were,
but she didn't let that stop her.
Brenda realized that even though
she couldn't put her life back together
the same as it was before the accident,
she could make a new one that would be good.
She liked helping people, and gradually
people began to think of Brenda
as somebody to ask for help,
which evolved into a job that was
basically solving weird problems.
Brenda kept up the volunteering
because it reminded her to stay in touch
with people, to help each other when
they were halfway to heaven and
could use a hand up the path.
When she met Darrel, one thing
she liked about him was that
he didn't need to ask why she did it
and he didn't quibble over the things
that she could do, or couldn't do,
or even chose not to do.
He just worked beside her,
and that was a blessing
she hadn't even thought to ask for.
* * *
Volunteering offers many benefits. Know how to volunteer.
Humans need healthy touch. People with disabilities often suffer from touch starvation. Know how to recognize and deal with skin hunger.
Hugging is a good way to give and receive touch. Some people want to hug others, even strangers, but resist the impulse. There are tips for giving a great hug.
Nonverbal communication includes clues to help people identify emotions through facial expressions and body language. Depressed people may have difficulty distinguishing their own emotions or those of others. Sometimes it helps to do mindful exercises for identifying and responding to emotions.
This is one example of a "Need prayer?" t-shirt. I think it's pretty cool, because it makes a silent offer of a service some people may find helpful, without being too obtrusive like people coming up to say, "Can I pray for you?" or worse, "I'll pray for you." Know how to be a prayer volunteer and how to pray for someone. Here are some nondenominational healing prayers.
"All peopled out" is a phrase often used by introverts or people with disabilities. It means coming to the end of one's capacity for social interaction at this time.
Helping others helps you in a variety of ways. Volunteering is especially good for this, but there are lots of little easy things you can do.
People may choose to use a wheelchair for various reasons.