Monday, March 16, 2009


There was a time when the idea of having a sit-down job was totally appealing. It was, as you might already have guessed, that long-ago period when I had a stand-up job, serving customers from behind a counter. Those were the tired-feet swollen-ankle days of my youth, when I counted the hours until lunch break would bring the respite of the tall stool amid the boxes in the back room. How I wished for a sit-down job!
I got a sit-down job, several in a row actually. And I’ll say that things went pretty well for the first thirty years of sitting. These days, not so much. It’s not that I don’t still like sitting. I love it, really I do. Trouble is, my back has decided to reject sitting as a viable option. And things, as a result, are changing.
How are they changing? Let me count the ways! Come to my house on a Saturday morning. Where you would once have found me in the rocking chair, nursing a warm coffee cup, now you’ll find me pacing the length and breadth of the house, sipping coffee as I walk. It’s the morning limbering up with caffeine. Now for the newspaper. Where once I would have retired to the study to read the electronic paper in the comfort of the office chair, I now move the laptop to the kitchen counter and read the paper where I stand.
Sunday mornings begin much the same way Saturdays start, and then there’s church, where I tend to sit on the piano bench, playing along with my music buddies. Oh I still sit there most of the time, but now I leap to my feet at the smallest possible opportunity, and I am learning to understand how so many musicians manage to play music while under the influence of substances. I used to wonder how Elvis did it. Now I know. You really can play music in an altered state.
Weekends notwithstanding, the biggest challenge of all comes in the work week. Counselling, when you get down to it, is a sitting job. “I’m just going to stand for a few minutes,” I say guiltily to my clients. ”My back is acting up.”
”Too bad,” they say with great compassion. ”Go ahead. Stand as long as you like.” They’re a nice lot, my clients. And though it’s true that my standing up is a conscious decision to attend to them at a time when pain has distracted my attention far from their problems, a stand-up counselling session somehow lacks that special atmosphere of caring I like to create.
My colleagues are invariably willing to sympathize. While I preside, standing, at the lunch table, they question me to make sure I am getting good treatment. They encourage me to take time off work if I need it. Then, knowing that I am determined to see this thing through, they begin proposing options to carry me until the pain can be arrested.
“We’ll get you a spiffy counselling office with a couch,” they pledge. “It will have a unique reverse configuration. The clients will sit and you will lie down.”
This, I concede, is something I had not considered. But I, in a show of pessimism, nix the idea. How would clients feel, having me lie down while they talk? What if I fell asleep? Much as I hate to admit it, nodding off during a lie-down counselling session is a possibility supported by historic evidence. I remember falling asleep many years ago when a volunteer reader was reading me a particularly boring textbook. Lacking available library space, we had been granted the use of a vacant bedroom in a university residence. There was only one chair, so I offered to lie on the bed. Noticing that I had fallen asleep, the volunteer, guided by the true spirit of altruism that compels people to read frightful books to blind students, halted the reading and tiptoed from the room so as not to wake me. I suppose it was a reprieve for her also.
To my colleagues I say, ”I Don’t know if the clients would feel cared about if I were to conduct their sessions lying down.” It is meant to be my final word on the subject.
Colleagues in another work place might have been discouraged by my lack of flexibility, but Hope Foundation is no ordinary work place. We operate in a culture of searching for options.
Says Joan, ”There is no need for you to create inequity by lying down while they sit. Your clients could simply lie down facing you.”
To my knowledge, no beds have yet been ordered. Still, I’ve been rehearsing the script this afternoon. It will be easy enough to get started. ”Welcome to Hope House!” I’ll say. ”Amazing things happen here. Come to my office and we’ll lie down together for counselling!”
That’s what I’ll say. What I can’t quite imagine is what they’ll say.

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