What Does it Really Mean to Be of Service? - A True Story
Caring for others provides ample challenges and confusion in the process of giving service. A caregiver's journey leads through fields of varied emotions, physical exhaustion and mental overloads. Yet there are also moments of unspoken bliss, a contentment that rises when the harmony of the greater beyond is touched.
For the writer it all began in a rambling ranch house.
At the end of the island where land meets the sea, on a high dry hill, there was a house called Ray's Ranch. Ray was at the end of his life, confined to his bed and waiting to die.
His wife had passed the year before in December, when the humpback whales make their annual migration to the Hawaiian islands.
Back then Ray was able to carry the ashes of his beloved companion on a small boat to the open sea. Now his body was weathered down by a series of strokes. Bedridden and dependent on outside care, his days slipped away in the struggle of discomfort and - in the face of death - the letting go of worldly importance.
Kati, a former geriatric nurse from Germany, was hired to care for Ray in his remote location. The winding road along the edges of the cliffs was unlit at night when she began her shift.
The writer, never before exposed to care-giving, had reservations about this level of intimate care. Yet he was not at rest to leave his wife alone with the challenge of the unfamiliar and persisted to stay during her shift in the large and lonely house.
Soon he witnessed how the old man suffered through the night. Unable to move by himself his body needed to be frequently re-positioned.
Is serving virtue in action?
After the writer observed the scene for a couple of nights a wave of compassion rose within that led him to help the suffering man.
He would sit at the bedside comforting Ray with listening and empathetic words. Soon the old veteran softened. In the companionship of heart he opened up and talked about his life.
When Ray carried the ashes of his wife out to sea, humpbacks swam alongside the boat. Deep within he knew that when the whales were back in Hawaiian waters, it would be his turn to be escorted to the other side. As the old man lay, he waited in agony each day for the whales to return.
The calender pages turned to the last month of the year. Ray's deteriorating physical condition made it more difficult for one person to give him the needed care.
Prior to making a life changing move, the writer had been a self-styled entrepreneur and career niche-seeker. His search took him on a merry chase. He sold businesses, trained new business owners, made self-watering sprout cabinets, assisted administrators, published newsletters, and pushed mail carts along the way. He'd never touched people much.
Now, in the grace of compassion, without any hesitations regarding the putrefied smells or repulsive sights he found himself actively participating to minimize the strain on the painfully disfigured body.
Ray dimmed for most of the day into a semi-conscious state. Only at nights when the writer returned to his bedside did he rouse himself enough to ask with a broken voice, "Did you see the whales"?
One morning in mid-December, the telltale humps of the whales were seen rising and falling in the blue Pacific. As the next shift began, Gary told Ray, "I saw the whales." Ray's body relaxed to an unspoken knowing and his eyes beamed a smile.
Day's later, a week before Christmas, he passed in peace. The ending of Ray's journey into the final sleep of his body opened for the writer the way into further care giving and its awakening insights.
Afterword: The Double-edged Sword of Care-giving
The following is a summary of the writer's personal experiences in the field of health care over the last ten years.
He saw that compassion is a key to the divine in man. Only in compassion could he experience no resistance and realize that being patiently silent would open a door to greater understanding.
For him, suffering does not go hand in hand with aging, as it is rather an indication that something is out of balance and not attuned to the whole.
Looking at how humankind has collectively treated the earth and itself makes it obvious that the natural balance of our origin has been distorted and uprooted from its source.
Due to misunderstood freedom, humans adopt more and more to mechanisms that go against the whole of life and trigger unnatural tensions. This translates over time to illness and misalignment.
We have become preoccupied with a gambling game of superiority and lost touch with the natural flow of union that guides our behavior by virtues which keep our well-being intact.
Care-giving today, due to unnatural mechanisms, allows very little movement within the guidelines of dignity for all involved. The writer and his wife left jobs in the health care field as there was no willingness to come together and change what was needed to be set right. One-sided agency policies, profit-motivated behaviors of private care home owners and the emotionally charged attitudes of fatigued co-workers still continues.
The moment we exchange wanting and controlling for accepting and allowing we will access the virtues that transform human interaction for the prosperity of all. Dignity as an innate behavior means self respect. It means being empowered by intrinsic energy, the intelligent knowing from within.
Dignity is the most potent foundation in care-giving that fosters healing and unfolding potential beyond regulated human thought. It sets free the flow of love that is the inter-connecting web of all creation. The writer has witnessed and experienced interactions when dignity gave rise to the wings of love, providing an opportunity of blooming wide open to the rays of the illuminating sun.