I had just stepped into the bathroom when I heard her. We were both in the lobby of a clinic for adults with permanent disabilities. Graciously, I walked in the door that morning. She was wheeled in, under the constant care of an attendant, orthotics strapped to her ankles and calves. The skin on her knees was severely chapped. I assumed that along with cerebral palsy, she was living with epilepsy.
When I entered the lobby she was carrying on a conversation, but as soon as I had turned the lock to the rest room door, the woman sitting just outside began to wail. It wasn’t a tantrum. There wasn’t a hint of high-pitched whine in her song. Selfishness wasn’t what motivated her cry. What arose from this woman’s soul was sorrow.
I began to wonder as I stood there washing my hands if the sound I was hearing was what resonated from within a person when their soul was deeply crushed? Her bellows interrupted the silence of the waiting room, challenging what was acceptable and polite.
Part of me wished that it would stop. How could I really be here? I stared ahead at the adult length pressurized bed that was set up in the bathroom. You read that last sentence right. A dignified changing table lay in front of me with hand sanitizer and directions for care-givers mounted on the wall above. Some of the adult patients here need to wear diapers. I considered how I hadn’t worn diapers since I was a toddler, silently gave thanks for my independence, and continued to focus on the piercing cry outside my door.
I walked out the door and took a seat, unsure of what to do. I wanted to get up from my chair, walk across the room and sit next to her. But, asking what’s wrong seemed inappropriate, not only because she was a stranger, but because I knew the answer.
Everyday this woman wakes up in a body that doesn’t work right. The spasticity of her muscles has confined her to a chair strangling her ability to walk, move, and bend. Every day looks the same: lonely, dependent, disappointing. Instead of living a life that has gradually sprung upward from childhood to independence, her life has come to a screeching halt; instead of a dorm room, a group home, instead of a college text, an expanded cable package.
Her constant doctor’s appointments have become the focus of her calendar. This is the only time she has a chance for another person to see her outside her home, a variation in her routine. Doctors are continually prescribing drugs, inquiring how she’s doing. This is how I’m doing! Her cry seemed to demand. You’re all here to treat my body, but it is my soul that is crushed!
I wanted to join with her in in her confession, because in that moment I was pretty sure she was the most authentic person in the room. The clarity at which she was admitting her need was so transparent it was scary. I’m hurting, I’m broken, I’m in need. See me and my pain! She seemed to cry without hesitation. No hiding. No pretending.
I wanted to move towards her, but instead I sat in my chair and buried my head in my paper, reading Dear Abby. Moments later, a social worker came out and wheeled her away so no one could hear her. I was relieved for the quiet but unsettled in my response. Why do we quiet the cry of the hurting, preferring our comfort, ignoring those in front of us who are honest about their need?