“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief.” Aeschylus
I was a probation officer. That was many, many years ago. I remember those days fondly. I loved my clients. They challenged me to figure out ways to understand them. How did they get to where they were and what, if anything, could I do to help? Each and every one of them was an individual with lots of promise.
And now they continue to live within me. I wonder where they are and how they’re doing. Did they find their way?
This week, one particular client came to mind over and over again. I’m not sure why I thought of him more this week than at other times. Perhaps I’m feeling more vulnerable these days.
I know where my client is, but I can’t reach him now. Not sure I did, reach him that is, even when he used to report to me weekly.
He would come into my office and sit. He preferred silence to chitchat.
“You have a good spirit. I feel calm around you,” he said as I tried to draw him out to discuss his past, and his future.
“Calm?” I asked. “No one has ever accused me of doing that for them.”
He laughed and went back to his notebook. I rarely saw him laugh, but he did seem at peace sitting in my warm office. And I felt more serene too.
Sometimes I continued to work while he sat, writing or drawing. I told him he could interrupt me anytime. Other times I’d ask him about his art and he would show me a story or a drawing, explain what it meant to him. I was a young, inexperienced social worker then and not sure I always understood what he was grappling with. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t.
He was an indigenous man who often slept outside year-round. He had fallen into alcohol to dull a pain I could not fathom or take away. Often he’d come into the office beaten up after sleeping somewhere along the Bow River. “The cops,” he would say. “Picked me up. Again.”
And in my indignation, I wanted to do something. “We should report this,” I said. “I can help.”
“Nah. Not worth it.”
Who knew if I could help or not, but in those days I thought I could do anything, make anything better.
He died in police custody shortly after being arrested for the last time. Back in the day, prison guards used to wash down the over-night holding cells and everyone in them, with hoses jetting cold water.
My client suffered a heart attack after one of those drenches and died. He was a few years older than me at the time. That would have made him 25.
The joy I experienced knowing my former client is permanently stamped with grief and rage of what could and should have been. And even today, all these years and losses later, the scar remains.
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