Washington DCSometimes, there are tiny views of what my future holds. The view last week was more disturbing to me than usual.
A friend who volunteers regularly at Joseph's House had invited me to have breakfast there, help him clean up and talk a little. To help with clean-up, I took my place at the sink to wash dishes. The drill is to wipe excess food off the plates, wash them in soapy water, stack them near the sterilizer, put them into the sterilizer as each load is finished and then put them away. Pretty straight forward!
However, I found myself at each stage in the process uncertain what to do. If the little place designated for stacking the soapy dishes filled up, where else should I stack them? If there was coffee in the cup, did I need to wash it or was it enough to toss the coffee and put the cup directly into the sterilizer? When it was time to put the cups away, where were they stored? (Answer: right in front of me). How much dish soap should I pour into the basin?
These were minuscule decisions, and they didn’t matter. If the spot for stacking the dishes filled up, put the dishes anywhere. If I don’t know whether to wash the coffee cups or not, go ahead and wash them; it’s not a big deal. What did it matter if I put in too much or too little soap?
I was in a mental fog, detached from the place and the others in the kitchen. What was most distressing was a sense of dependency on others; I felt I needed to ask someone about almost everything, yet I felt weird about asking. I felt others' eyes on me (although I don’t know if that was true or just a subjective sense.) My world contracted to the tiny space around me.
I am ordinarily treated with deference at Joseph's House. New volunteers, especially the year-long interns know of my role as founder and have at least heard of my books if they are not already reading them. The deference has always been embarrassing so my response has been a bit self-deprecating. The truth, however, is that I also enjoy the deference and am willing to put up with my discomfort.
So were the volunteers noticing my confusion? As I worsen, will their opinion of and respect for me change? (Of course it will, especially as the volunteers change every year.) How will that feel to me? And what will it be like to visit at Joseph's House as I lose that place of special respect? Will I even want to visit as I worsen? For the first time, I felt some of the isolation that is probably coming … not because others isolate me but because—in my embarrassment—I isolate myself.