Sunday, November 6, 2011

Changing Oneself

 Writing in his weekly column on spirituality, the columnist goes back to the time when, as a young religious working as the chaplain in a mental hospital, an incident at the hospital helped turn his life around.

The head male nurse came to him and asked if a bicycle could be provided for the patients. He told the head nurse he had recently received  two bicycles for patients in the process of leaving the hospital, and were outside in the yard.  The nurse responded: "Father, not that  kind of bicycle but the kind that can be used in the hospital."
I asked if it would be possible to use those bicycles in the hospital. "How can we use those bicycles in the hospital? he answered sharply. "I'm talking about the kind of bicycle that you use for exercise." Still not understanding, I then asked the nurse, "How about taking the bicycles and attaching them to  the wall of the hospital so that they can be used for exercise?" The nurse left, laughing.  It was only later that he realized the nurse was talking about training bikes used in health clubs.

He goes on to say that it seemed his head was even more confused than was the mental state of the patients he was counseling; he admits to being easily flustered by the demands of the new work. He thanks the patients for being a great consolation to him during those early years, during which he covered up his feelings of incompetence by pushing himself to appear as a responsible and capable person.
With the passage of time his relationship with the patients became closer.  He laughed and cried a lot listening to them. He heard about their struggles in regaining health, and watched their slow and graceful  manner of relating to others. They interacted with him without reservation, and they said Mass together. Seeing their simplicity, he reflected on his own bluster and uncontrollable human desires. Gradually, he felt the surface froth of his spirituality subside and finally disappear. The experience helped shed his impetuosity. He got over the desire to impress others, and began to have greater trust in others.

In the beginning of the work in the mental hospital, he felt he was there to help them, but on looking back on those years, he realizes they helped to heal him. He summed up his experiences by saying that when we give ourselves in earnest to help others, we are ultimately helping ourselves.

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