I found out that a local church is opening up a kitchen to start feeding the poor. The town I’m leaving is full of people just trying to survive, as our county has the highest unemployment in the state. I gave them practically every kitchen item I own. It was nice to know it will be put to good use.
I enjoy giving things away. There is a freedom to it. Interestingly, the person I gave most of my office supplies to, pulled me aside to ask if I was planning on killing myself. Apparently, when someone gives their things away while being cheerful, that can be a sign of bigger decisions being made. I informed her I was not, but thanked her for being brave enough to ask such a question. The reason I appreciated that question is because not enough people take the time to discuss the harder things anymore.
About a year ago a man came to see me with horrible sciatic down his leg. It had gotten so bad that he was nearly bedridden for almost two years. He had been to see a handful of doctors, 2 neurologists and a physical therapist – none was able to help. I did all my tricks on him, and an hour and a half later, I was baffled.
Not because I couldn’t fix his sciatic issue, but because, he didn’t have a sciatic issue.
I asked him to come back and we tried different things, again, I was baffled. Afterwards we sat in my lobby and I told him there was nothing I could do for him as he didn’t have a sciatic problem. He thought I was crazy. Every medical professional had been trying to help him with sciatic, and here I was, telling him they were all wrong.
I explained to him that I didn’t know what it was, but I did every technique I had at my disposal – and it wasn’t sciatic. He thanked me for my time, shrugged, and said, “Well, I guess I’m just going to be as crippled as my dad was.”
I asked him, did your dad have sciatic problems? He said yes, for nearly thirty years. Was it in the same leg? Yes, same leg. I asked him if he had died, and yes, he had died a little over two years ago.
He told me that his family had land up in the mountains, so he, his wife and his father had decided to build a house up there. They built the barn first, and then soon after, his dad died of a heart attack. That next summer he went back to build the house (he and his wife decided they still wanted this dream), and as he was pouring the foundation his sciatic problem started. It got so bad he has never been able to continue building.
As he finished his story, a stunned look came across his face. “Oh my god…did I take on my dad’s sciatic?”
He started telling me about how bad he felt, that his dad didn’t get to fulfill his dream of living in the mountains. How building the barn, in the high altitude, was just too much for his heart.
Then he asked, “So what do I do? How do I fix it? Is this all in my head?”
I told him that I didn’t know. I asked him if he had shared these feeling with his wife. The guilt of his dad dying before he got to live his dream. He said no, because he didn’t want to worry her.
I suggested that for now, he do nothing. We had planted the seed in his brain, and sometimes that is enough to get the brain to finally start talking to the body, instead of them always trying to sabotage each other. I told him that if nothing felt better, perhaps he should consider seeing a grief counselor or a therapist, just to cover his bases.
I saw him about a month later. His limp was gone. He told me that a few days after he saw me it started to ease up and then went away altogether. He also told me he had told his wife everything. They were still going to build the house.
My self-imposed homelessness (and stories like this one) has had me thinking about the elephants lately. You see, when an elephant needs help, they let out a sigh. It’s a deep moan that can travel for miles, only audible to other elephants. When an elephant hears that sigh, they drop what they are doing and they will walk to the one who asked for help. They will gather, physically surrounding it, to provide comfort and support to the one in need.
Elephants, in the tens of thousands of years they have existed, have figured out that when you help a member of your community, you strengthen the entire community. Humans, in the thousands of years we’ve existed, still fight about affordable healthcare for others, still send our brave men and women to die in questionable wars and still scream against those who don’t believe (or love) the way we do.
In some sick and twisted way, it’s almost like we’ve come to the conclusion that if you isolate and weaken certain members of the community, that will somehow strengthen the community. That will never work.
So as I load up my dog, my clothes and some of my favorite books – and drive away from the place I’ve called home these last few years – this thought keeps crossing my mind. With all the screaming we do in this country, the divides politically, sexually, religiously and monetarily, what type of world have we created? What kind of country is this where a daughter can’t tell her own father she’s pregnant, or a son can’t tell his mother he’s gay or a husband can’t even tell his own wife that he’s grieving for the loss of a father?
If we refuse to hear what other Americans are sharing, and we can’t hear what our own loved ones are trying to tell us…who will be there to hear the low moan of those of us who are in a place in life where we need to be surrounded and supported? Who will hear us sigh?
Vince is the author of Einstein’s Shutter, among other works.