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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Broken wings, lost feathers

“Oh my God.  Poor bird!” I exclaimed as I saw a bird bounce off the windshield of the car heading toward me. I was driving to work that morning and had the misfortune of witnessing what, to me, was a quite disturbing scene. I vividly remember seeing multiple feathers being blown off the bird at the time of the violent impact. 
But amazingly, the bird had rolled off the windshield after the impact, leaving its flurry of feathers floating gracefully to the highway pavement, and continued flying. I was astonished. I saw it heading off toward a grassy field beside the road. The bird was struggling, flying in a very unbalanced way, but with evident tenacity to safely land. I turned my head back to the highway, and continued driving, with the image of the bird etched in my mind.  

Will it survive? Will its broken wing or wings heal? Will its lost feathers grow back?  

A few months later I received an unexpected phone call. The news was bad. Someone needed my help. I was astonished. I felt close to collapse. I had to make decisions, but couldn’t focus. I closed my office door, sat on my chair and breathed deeply. And I said a prayer, asking God for guidance. 
The image of the unfortunate bird came to my mind, even though several months had passed since that incident. Like the bird, I was in pain. Emotional pain. I felt as though my wings were broken, or worse, ripped apart. With no feathers left.  

But like the bird, I knew I had to do something right away. I had to continue moving and heading off to where I could find relief. A place with green pastures. Then I switched my course of thoughts with a more determined state of mind. I realized I still had my wings. I regained my strength, and made quick decisions. Successfully.  

Several weeks later, I found myself looking back in retrospect, thankful that everything was resolved. And life went back to normal.  

A recent event involving a nursing home resident made me think of the unfortunate bird again. Mrs. Williams’s niece came from out of town to visit. A rather unusual visit. Mrs. Williams’s sister had just died, and her niece came to bear the bad news. Mrs. Williams is a lady in her 90’s, with advanced dementia, and in a very declined condition. I was present when Mrs. Williams and the niece met. As a social worker, I like to be present when my residents receive bad news, in case of any crisis.  

“Aunt, I am Gloria, your niece, do you remember me?”  

Mrs. Williams perked up, and seemed to recognize her niece, despite her poor memory.  Hesitating, the niece told her about her sister’s death. Mrs. Williams had remained still for several seconds, then she opened her eyes widely.  

The impact against the windshield, I thought, recalling the bird incident, the shock and the realization of instant pain. 

Mrs. Williams started crying.  A few minutes later, she fell silent. She let her head lean forward, closed her eyes, and then looked as if she went to sleep. Due to her dementia it was not unusual for Mrs. Williams to look sleepy or lethargic.  

“Aunt, aunt,” the niece called quietly. Mrs. Williams tilted her head up toward her niece and opened her eyes. They shared a smile.  

“Aunt, are you okay? 

 “I’m fine,” Mrs. Williams answered. She started talking about the plants in the sunroom. The niece and I realized that Mrs. Williams had completely forgotten about the recent sad news. In less than five minutes.  

The niece didn’t broach the subject again. She had accomplished her mission of telling her aunt about her sister’s death. A painful moment for Mrs. Williams and her niece. Fortunately, a very brief moment for Mrs. Williams, who now continues her routine. And life went back to normal.  

Her wings were healed. Her feathers grew back, I mused.  

All within five minutes. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

On the right path?

“This is Doris,” I said, picking up the phone receiver with one hand as I continued typing on the computer keyboard with the other. It’s amazing how social workers learn, or are forced to become multi-tasking. There is never enough time to complete all that is required in a day’s work.  

“The social workers are here,” the receptionist announced. 

“Good!” I exclaimed. I’ll be there in a minute,” I replied, hanging up. 

Three social workers that had recently joined the medical department at a local hospital had arrived to meet me. They had expressed their desire to visit our facility and learn more about our services. I was quite excited to give them a tour. I am always eager to interact and network with colleagues.  

I met the three girls. They were in her twenties, dressed casual, and looked excited. I walked them through the facility, showing them all areas, and explained  the services provided. While walking the halls, I noticed them glancing at residents. Most of my residents were in wheelchairs, some in bed, and others ambulated with the assistance of a walker. I was proud of my residents. They looked clean, well groomed, and happy. Some of the residents greeted at the social workers. 

We paused at the rehabilitation gym, one of my favorite areas. I love to see the residents getting stronger, recuperating, and redeveloping their physical and mental capacities.  And I love even more when I see them leaving the facility, going back to their home.

One of the social workers expressed her approval as she observed residents in therapy,  working the machines with their frail and slender arms which, with work, would gain endurance and be worth all the muscle stiffness and pain. A truly amazing scene. 

Next, we headed to my second favorite place: the beauty shop. Several ladies were under hair dryers, getting glamorous hair styles. Others were being manicured. Anne, the beautician, is a very patient woman who enjoys making the nursing home ladies look pretty and stylish. I stopped for a good few minutes there, and gave the social workers a speech about self-esteem, femininity and dignity.   
“As you can see, most of the ladies in this facility take pride on their personal appearance,” I gladly noted.  

I walked to the door, heading back into the hall. When I turned and looked back, I noticed that the social workers had not followed me. They were still in the beauty shop. 

 Are they talking to the ladies? I wondered. They must have liked the place too, I mused, smiling. But then, after I glanced inside of the shop again, I noticed that one girl was wiping tears from her eyes, and the other two surrounded her, consoling her. 

“Are you okay?” I asked.  “I’m fine. Sorry,” the tearful woman replied with her soft voice cracking.  

We all headed into the hall, and I continued my tour, trying not to think of the social worker’s emotional episode.  

After I finished the tour I gave the girls some literature and my business card. They all seemed appreciative of the tour. 

After they left  I went back to my office and wondered what had happened. Did the facility or residents bring back sad memories? I was unsure what could have possibly triggered such a reaction. I sympathize with the girl, but I was also concerned about a social worker not being able to control her emotions in front of the population that actually needs her support.  

I later thought about the incident, hoping that the young woman would become emotionally stronger as she advanced down her career path. The more she interacts with patients and families in the hospital, the more self-confident she will become, I anticipated. 

A few months later, I was visiting some of my residents in the hospital. I came across one of the social workers that visited the facility. I was glad to see that she was assigned to one of my residents. I observed her working with self-confidence and pride. I was pleased. 

After we talked about my resident I drew closer to her. “How is the other girl doing, the one that was tearful that day?” I whispered.  

“She’s gone. She couldn’t handle the job” 

I was astonished but not surprised. 

I left the hospital immersed in thoughts about the young social worker that was gone. I wanted to believe that she had opted for another area of intervention more suitable to her aspirations and desires. 

I prayed that she had found the right path on her career. 

Monday, August 9, 2010

A note from Natoya

I love Jamaica was one of the stickers I glanced at the gift shop. It was as though my thoughts had been colorfully printed on that sticker. Definitely, our vacation in Jamaica was one of the best my husband and I can recall. The people were vibrant and friendly, and the island was a tropical beauty surrounded by its blue sea and inviting beaches. 

On our second day in Jamaica I visited the sports center wanting to get information on tours and schedules. Three girls were at the desk. They wore white and blue uniforms, looked very fashionable, and well groomed. One was on the phone. The other two spotted me as I approached the desk. 

“How can I help you?” one of the girls asked, in her gracious Jamaican accent. 

She provided me with the information I needed. 

“What are you reading?” the other girl--who I noticed was starring at a book I was holding in my hand-- asked.  

“It’s a novel, it has to do with mystery and murder,” I answered, showing her the book cover.  

“I see you’re almost finished!” she commented. Her keen eyes viewed the book, including where I had last left the bookmark, revealing that I was close to the end of the book.  

Does she want the book?, I wondered. 

Her eager eyes continue to view the book --my book. 

I can’t give it away, I thought.  

I glanced at the book --  "The Prairie Grass Murders" a signed copy that I had recently won on a blog contest. My blogging friend, Ann Best, gave away two copies signed by the author, Patricia Stoltey. The book was meaningful to me. I had actually emailed Patricia to let her know how excited I was at being one of the lucky winners.

And now, a Jamaican girl wanted to take away my book, I lamented . 

“Well, let me finish reading it, and I'll bring it to you tomorrow,” I promised.  
“What’s your name?” I asked her. 

“My name is Natoya” she proudly replied, while pointing at her name tag. I looked closely, and using my almost-always-successful mnemonic trick, I repeated in my mind: Natoya, Latoya Jackson...Natoya, Latoya -I'll remember

As I was whispering my mantra-like memory technique, I spotted something peculiar on Natoya’s arm. I noticed she had a huge scar on her left inner arm. It had no doubt it was a burn scar. What happened to her? I wondered. Was it an accident from her childhood? Did someone do that to her as a punishment? I shook my head, and blew off my unpleasant questions and impertinent thoughts. 
I’m just glad she is alive!, I mused, and sighed.  

Immersed in my thoughts about the book, I headed back to the beach where my husband was waiting for me. The humidity was high, and so was the speed of my thoughts. A pale idea of buying a book at the gift shop crossed my mind. I was sure Natoya would have appreciated a new book anyway.  

That’s cheating, I reprimanded myself. 

I returned the next day. My husband and I were waiting for the boat that would take us snorkeling. I looked for Natoya. She wasn’t at the desk. I sat in the shade, talking to my husband, and scanned the surroundings, hoping to see my Jamaican friend.  

“There she is!” I exclaimed. She was heading to her desk. She looked elegant again. Smiley. I noticed she held a notepad and a pen in her hand, walked strong and confident. 

“Natoya!” I called as I approached her. A beautiful smile blossomed on her face. “I brought you the book.” 

“Oh, you did!”, she exclaimed, with evident surprise.  

Did she sense my hesitant thoughts yesterday? I feared. Has Natoya’s precious heart been broken by false promises in the past?, I wondered.   

I was glad I kept my promise. 

“I got to tell you something, Natoya” I warned her. “This book was signed by the author” I opened the book on the page where Patricia had signed and showed it to her.  

“Oh, it’s a special book!”  Her eyes open widely.   

“Yes, it is,” I confirmed. I told Natoya that I communicated with Patricia over the internet, and in simply terms, I tried to explain about my blog. I think Natoya knew nothing about blogs, but she did have a vague idea about the internet. She seemed to understand that I could post public messages. Her eyes brightened as if it was an amazing discovery for her. 

And I gave Natoya the book.  

She thanked me, and told me she had to go back to work. I went back to sit in the shade where my husband was still waiting for our boat ride.  

A few minutes later, Natoya returned. She sat next to me. She told me that she was actually in training as she had recently started the job. Then she started writing on her notepad. I glazed at Natoya. She is precious, I thought, and took a picture of her. She grinned as if she had become a celebrity.  

She became my celebrity.  

Then she handed me a folded piece of paper, and told me she had to leave or she might get in trouble with her supervisor.  
While walking away on the beach, she paused, turned, and   waived goodbye, I unfolded Natoya’s note: 

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Daring to post outside of my blog

This is exciting to me. 

I've submitted a story to a "short story contest".

If you would like to read it--and perhaps to vote and comment-- this is the link:


8/7  Update:   I am officially in the contest! Thanks everyone who voted and/or commented on my story.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Jamaica: Irie, Mon!

“Where is ‘bus 21?’”  my husband asked to a man in a blue uniform at the airport. His shirt displayed the logo of the company that would pick us up at Montego Bay airport, in Jamaica, to take us to the resort of our destination.  My husband had called prior to arrival and believed he was told to find “bus 21.” 

Bus 21?  No, I think you are looking for Desk 21. Please go back inside, turn to your right and you’ll see it. Make sure to get your voucher,” he instructed us. 

We turned around. I could sense my husband’s frustration. But I actually thought the misunderstanding was rather humorous. 

“Bus 21, desk 21... bus, desk...” I murmured. Then I started giggling, after a glare from my husband.

“They speak too fast,” my husband exclaimed --his logical explanation. And we both laughed. 

That was the beginning of an exciting, fun, and interesting trip for my husband and I, our first time to Jamaica. It was part vacation, but --more importantly-- the place to celebrate our second wedding anniversary.  

Once in the shuttle bus, and soon after leaving the airport, we noticed the driver turned left at a roundabout  --whereas we expect him to turn right, as was normal for us.  

Are we driving into oncoming traffic? I wondered, feeling panicky. 

But the driver quickly announced: “Right side is suicide here in Jamaica,”  laughing at a handful of naive tourists. Then we realized that you’re supposed to drive on the left side of the road. British influence, I recalled. 

As we were heading to our resort, the driver pointed out some places of interest: a stadium where there was an important Reggae event a few nights before, a place for riding horses, hotels and resorts recently built, a fishing village, and a food store where famous Jamaican rum cakes could be savored. 
But as the driver was playing tourist guide, my wandering eye was targeting other areas of interest.  

Areas of my own interest. 

I glanced at people on the streets. I observed many children, poorly groomed, some of them bare-footed, standing at the traffic intersections, selling guineps, a native fruit of the American tropics. Do those children attend school? Are they working only during the summer months, until the new school-year begins? Or do they have to  work and attend school? -- Too many questions, I criticized myself.

That happens when you are a social worker. I sighed. 

I realized that my husband was also glancing at the street scenes. 

“Informal economy”, I commented.  

“Just like in South America”, my husband said.  

“Just like in South America, or Africa, or any third world country,” I whispered.  
My husband remained quiet. I sensed he had no desires to discuss socio-political or economical problems. And without any further comment, we focused back on our vacation.

We arrived at our resort.  We passed through a security gage to a luxurious place.  

Majestic, I thought.  The architecture was astonishing. The ocean view was gorgeous. The aristocratic setting was beyond what the advertisements could capture in a picture. 

“Welcome!” the front desk girl with a sparkly smile chimed as we approached.  

Welcome to paradise, I mused, with obvious excitement. 

We truly enjoyed all the amenities, the beach, food and fun activities. I particularly got a kick out of interaction with the staff. Most of them were men and women in their early twenties, may I have taken a good guess. They worked diligently, yet apparently almost stress-free. I believe the Reggae music --which always played in the background-- was a spirit booster for them. And they always had a smile on their faces.  

Genuine smiles. 

I presumed they were pleased at having a job with more benefits than the average population. Or perhaps having a job was just enough to feel lucky.  

I knew little about Jamaica upon my arrival. But later I found myself indulged in learning its history. It was amazing to learn that Jamaica was a young nation. It wasn’t until 1962 that Jamaica claimed her independence from British oppression.  

As a colony of Spain from 1494 to1655, and a British colony from 1655 to 1962, I could understand the challenges of such transitions, and how it may have directed the course of its economy and society. An interesting note I came across about Jamaica summed up the country well: 

“For centuries, Jamaica has welcomed settlers from all around the world. This small island has played host to the Amerindians who discovered it, to Europeans who fought to own it, to Africans forced to call it home, and to Asians, Indians and Middle Easterners searching for a better life. Each group carried with it a story and tradition, throwing everything into Jamaica's melting pot. After centuries of brewing, all have blended together to give the island its rich history and heritage”   (http://www.visitjamaica.com/about-jamaica/history.aspx

Rich history, rich culture. I thought about this while shopping for souvenirs. 

I observed meaningful crafts, and the Jamaican spirit and pride reflected on symbols, slang sayings, and expressions. One particular expression that caught my attention was: “Irie, Mon”. It was printed on everything from t-shirts, key holders, and mugs, to magnets. Intrigued, I asked one of the girls in the gift shop what it meant. 

“It means feeling good,” she explained, flashing a big smile.  

As our vacation drew near to its end, I glanced at the ocean one more time before leaving the resort. The water was blue and clear, the ocean was calm. 

And so was my mind and spirit.  

I thanked God for the beauty of that island and its people, for the peace and harmony my husband and I experienced during our stay. I thanked God for the leisure the resort offered, and particularly, for “the retreat” --as I named a rustic area on the beach, away from the crowd and noise-- where we spent a good deal of time reading, musing, or simply listening to the sounds of the waves embracing the rocks. It became our favorite spot. Our sanctuary.  

A graceful breeze usually swirled our bodies while we were immersed in our reading, and writing. I had my notepad and pen with me. Back to basics, back to nature. Life is irie, mon