There are angels everywhere.
I was sitting in a circle with about twenty other people at the Day Treatment Center at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital, when Jane, our always-centered, always-compassionate group leader challenged us to throw caution to the wind, and try a new exercise in giving. Jane asked us to talk for five minutes with the people on either side of us, sharing with them some of ourselves. As much or as little, as intimate or as guarded as we felt comfortable with, but Jane, optimistic psychic explorer as she was, always hoped and believed in trying to take two steps forward.
The guy on my left was David, a “tin bender” or sheet metal worker to the uninitiated. He was, like me, a motor head loving bikes and cars, who was in love with the jet black Harley I rode to treatment every morning. I think in his mind, having a Harley like that would cure all ills; it was or should be that simple. I told him a thousand times that life with a custom Harley is still just life. He was also dealing with a failing marriage due to his chronic depression and substance abuse, both of which he still refused to acknowledge.
We talked Harley’s and Hemi’s and when I asked about how his family meeting with his wife went, he told me that the therapist and his wife were ganging up on him, and making him sick. I told Dave that I had stopped eating about a week before, and that it seemed I had no appetite for anything anymore, my Harley included. He unselfishly offered to take it off my hands.
The woman on my right was June. Very quiet, very shy, 40 something, faded sweaters. Before this exercise I’d only heard her quiet voice once or twice. We spoke for a few moments and she never made eye contact with me. I tried to be open and vulnerable for the both of us, “open and vulnerable” from a guy’s vocabulary, telling her that Oh, yeah my life was messed up, and I knew exactly why that was. She asked why and I told her that my life was screwed up because THIS person had done THIS to me and THAT person had done THAT to me, and then THIS had happened and then THAT had happened, and I told her that Hell, I never had a chance, that I had been stopped before I had even got going.
I asked her what was wrong with her, and she said, ‘I hurt.” I asked her to elaborate of what, why or who had hurt her and she said that she just “hurt.”
Jane got control of the group again and chose one of the members and said: “OK, now turn to the person on your left and using a little of what you learned from them and from yourself, I want you to “give” them an imaginary present, something special that you think they would like or need. Something to help them on their journey.”
At the start it was kind of embarrassing and slow to get going so most of the “gifts” were silly things, “Here’s the number to your secret Swiss bank account!” “I give you the power to shake out exactly TWO aspirins out of the bottle each time!” And people would laugh and joke. But the mood started to change and the “gifts” became more appropriate, intimate, more thought out. For a depressed woman there was a magic Pegasus who would fly her far, far away to a place where she’d be happy. A refrigerator that would never be empty for the gal that was on assistance with four kids. A time machine for the man who had lost his wife in a traffic accident so he could go back and tell her how much he loved her, could tell her goodbye.
The circle came around to June, and I didn’t know what to expect. I don’t think I understood then the difference between still and calm and just plain quiet, so I expected maybe three words from her. She looked me in the eyes and held me spellbound as she gave me her gift:
“If I could I’d give you a key that could open every lock in the world, every shut place, every closed heart.”
“If I could I’d give you a book that had every answer to every question, big and small, a book that could give all knowledge, and explain all things.”
“If I could I’d give you a map that could find every hidden place, and would make it so you’d never be lost even in the darkest places, a map that could take you to all the places you’d ever dreamed about going. A map that could help turn your wanderings into a journey.”
“If I could, I’d give you a shield that was impregnable, a protection that would hold all attackers at bay, a power that would allow you to remain unharmed while whole armies attacked you.”
“If I could I’d give you a beautiful little woodland cottage next to a stream. A place for solitude when you need time and space for thought and creativity, wonderful rooms filled with art and magical treasures from your adventures, places for a child’s crayon drawing in a place of honor next to a Van Gogh. A place where your garden flourished, your kittens frolicked and your many, many friends and family would gather around the perfect fireplace feeling this was their home as well. A place where you and they would never, ever be lonely again.”
You could have heard a pin drop in the room. Then she said with her voice breaking: “I can’t give you those things, Pete, because you already have them. They’re in your heart, right where they’ve always been and always will be.” And she softly put the palm of her hand against my chest and I could feel in that moment that she was right.
Pete Feigal can be contacted at PFeigal@aol.com Now that Pete’s eyesight is failing, he has discovered new careers as a national speaker and writer. Pete’s art is actually selling better now than ever. He says jokingly, when he dies, like all artists his art will become even more popular. “That’s when I’ll REALLY clean up!”Pete’s amazing aviation and motorcycle fine art prints and t-shirts can now be seen on Pete’s fledgling Web site at www.art-that-moves.com