Can you think of the most intense moment of your life? It’s hard, I know. Our lives should be full of these moments. They make us feel things we never thought possible; help us extract our deepest hopes and desires; give us a glimpse into the truest versions of ourselves. Living life without intensity is like reading a dictionary. All the words have definitions and everything may make sense on its own, but if you were to read it cover to cover, it wouldn’t come together like a story. It needs depth, a plot, moments. Moments of intensity. Those are the glue that hold our stories together and give them meaning. I had one such moment early on in my volunteering career at the hospital. I will never forget it.
Working as a child life specialist will indubitably present me with many difficult situations which I must learn to work through. I am going into this fully aware that this isn’t easy work. I know that I am going to have days where I want to give up, but the bottom line is that this is something that I really care about and gives me great joy to do, and that is what will keep me going. I have had so many amazing experiences with the children in the hospital including lots of dance parties, craft sessions, and high-fives. But, I have also had my fair share of struggles and have dealt with some very unhappy children. One such child was known by the entire staff to be very temperamental and the child life specialists always warned volunteers of this before having them attempt to try their luck with this child—let’s call her Sam for identity-concealing purposes.
I entered the room slowly as not to startle her and ease her into the process of becoming acquainted with yet another stranger with a mask entering her room. She was watching a television show and some people would have taken this as a sign to sit on the other side of the room and let her be, but I could see that she was on the verge of tears and was clearly having a tough day, so I knelt by her bedside and tried to engage her a bit. All of my questions, no matter what they were, were answered with a moaning “noooooo,” so I decided that maybe it was best not to make her talk if she didn’t want to. I then moved across to the other side of the room to see how she would react to that because it seemed like she really wanted nothing to do with me, and was surprised when this was met by an increase in exasperation and tears. Next, I tried moving to a chair closer to her bed, but not right next to her so as to give her some space, but this, regrettably, did not make things any better. The only thing that seemed to calm her down was when I knelt next to her bed, silently. So, despite the cramping in my knees, this is where I spent the next hour: close enough in presence for her to know that I was there, but quiet enough that she didn’t have to exert any effort towards answering questions or offering reactions her confused and frustrated little mind didn’t know how to approach.
I came to learn that Sam had a pretty tough life and dealt with a mother who neglected her and fought constantly with her step-father in front of her, a grandmother who took any and every opportunity to get out of the room and away from her, and little or no support during such a difficult time in her life. I could tell by the way she stared at me with her dark, conflicted eyes, that all this child wanted was someone to show her some love and compassion. Sometimes all kids (and adults, for that matter) need is to know that someone is there. Perhaps they aren’t ready to open up and share their feelings with you at that time, but having someone by their side while they fight through the tangled vines in their mind, gives them a sense of comfort and some sort of stability during what seems like a hopeless time.
Locking eyes with that child was an immensely intense experience that I will never forget. It was as if she was peering into my soul, searching for goodness and meaning, and trying to figure out if I was someone who could be trusted. I think the kindness in my eyes put her at ease for the time I spent with her, but can only hope that she has been met with enough heartening hazels and blissful blues to help her begin to solve the painful puzzle that is her life.
That moment touched something inside me. 1…2…3…Intensity! That was a cheer we used to shout to motivate us before field hockey games. I loved playing hockey and always left everything I had on the field, but now I know what real intensity feels like. I felt it in that room, in those eyes.
So, in what moments have you encountered true intensity? Think about it.