February 3, 2015

Dearly Loved

The young woman stumbled into The Well's front desk and mumbled her name. She was wearing just a dirty white pair of men's tight boxers and a short t-shirt. Heading to the coffee station to fill her cup, she bumped into several guests. She hardly reacted as they expressed their displeasure at the hot coffee splattering on them and on the floor. That was my first encounter with the woman I came to know as Amy.

I immediately headed toward her that morning and tried to guide her to an empty seat in our Family Room. She was unhappy, incoherent and mumbling to herself. I went to the clothing closet and picked out a pair of comfortable capris and a clean t-shirt. I tried my best to not offend her as I encouraged her to go in the restroom and change her clothes. Visibly agitated, she mumbled something unintelligible to me but followed my suggestion and accepted the clothing.

The following morning, Amy came back and quietly checked in at the front desk as I went about my morning routine. After about 30 minutes, she left. Less than an hour later, she stumbled back into the coffee station grabbed a stack of napkins, wetted them and proceeded to bathe herself in front a room full of people. I stopped her and asked her to go the bathroom if she needed to freshen up. Again, she seemed angry and frustrated but didn't communicate with me directly. Amy and I continued to have similar interactions for the next three months or so. It was then that she stopped coming to The Well for several weeks and I became concerned that something terrible might have happened to this young woman who I'd never even really had a conversation with.

I was in the prep room one morning getting ready for breakfast, when one of our floor volunteers came to get me. Amy was at the front desk asking for me, they said. Surprised but relieved, I hurried out front to see her. She was well-dressed and sober. She hugged me tightly, and I hugged her back. I had never seen her lucid before and was shocked initially that she even remembered who I was.

Standing there in the Family Room, Amy excitedly told me the story of her arrest and how she begged the judge for help getting into rehab. She remembered me, and had even thought about me while she was in treatment. With pride, she introduced me to the case worker who, even though she was standing next to Amy the whole time, had escaped my notice. Amy handed me the rehab facility's information and asked if she could use me as her contact for the case worker. I agreed of course, and wished her well as she left smiling and pleased with herself. As people jostled by me in and out of the Family Room, I stood in the front doorway overcome by the exchange I'd just had with Amy.

I have always known the rational reasons why I come to the Well to serve every day. I often have doubts though whether my presence has any meaningful impact to the people around me. Amy and my interaction that morning left us both somehow changed. After no more than a quiet acknowledgment of each other for many months, the open affirmation of our relationship was healing for both of us. I needed her just as much as she needed me. Her smile that day was all the encouragement I need to continue doing the hard work in front of me, even when it feels insignificant or impossible. Now I know that my kindness had that same effect on her.

Amy has become a regular guest at The Well again. She has good days and bad days just like the rest of us. Now she often stays around after we close, and cheerfully helps us to clean the bathrooms, the floors and all the coffee and tea splattered on the walls and doors. We all appreciate her very much. I asked her once why she left rehab so soon. She replied sadly that she couldn't afford the payments for her treatment, and so was asked to leave. In that moment, I was saddened not for her but with her.

The reasons for our struggles are never simple, and fighting to overcome our weaknesses alone is incredibly hard. Amy struggles in her own way. I struggle in mine. My role is not to fix Amy or to judge her. Like me, Amy knows her own wounds. Picking at them over and over again only causes the infection to worsen. Our relationship reminds me that my role here at The Well is to be present, to encourage people when they're struggling. I celebrate with people when they have the courage to face their own demons. I mourn with them when they fail. They mourn with me when I fail.

The name Amy means "dearly loved." I think that we are all Amy. We struggle and fight and fail and try again. And to the extent that we face this life together, hand in hand, we are stronger for having each other, and we are dearly loved through all of it. 


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