Heart Happy (cathy_edgett) wrote,
Heart Happy

Epiphany -

The Thomas Merton Institute for Contemplative Living invited people to share an epiphany they have experienced.

You can read them at: http://www.mertoninstitute.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=rGIrBgNlnV0%3d&tabid=106

I was particularly struck by this one by Thomas A. Zimmerman.

This experience is from way back in the beginning of my young adult life. It was January of 1973, and the setting was Elgin State Mental Hospital Elgin Ill. It was the January Interim course field work assignment for my Psychology Major. The assignment was to a residential home for whom were called at the time, "the chronically insane". This was a rude introduction to clinical psychology for a 20 year old intern from Elmhurst College. Basically the first week was one of shock. People in various limited states of consciousness ambled around the "day room". Most were not groomed well. Some had intellectual deficits, and others had emotional problems, like severe Manic Depression and various levels of Schizophrenia. It was a ward for the hopeless. The staff turned me loose to be in the day room and experience the ward. They did not seem to know what to do themselves, let alone supervise a rookie college student.

By the end of the week I decided to change my major from Psychology to something else‐‐anything else. And then came a decisive prayer‐‐" Lord, this is a waste of time. These are not even humans in here. This is totally hopeless". That night an answer came to that prayer in the midst of much tossing and turning. Somewhere the words came," They are human, my children. What makes you any better than them? Stop treating them like they are not human and treat them with the same respect you would any of the people you so call "normal".

Humbled, I returned totally changed the next day. The residents were greeted with warmth and compassion, by name. They were listened to respectfully, even if not really understood. Their needs were taken up with the staff. They were treated like human beings and not hopeless clinical failures. After 10 days of this, the staff were becoming impressed with the changes in patients. They narrowed it to me, the somewhat quiet and lost intern. So one day they called me to the unit meeting and said, "We have noticed a marked improvement in the residents since you started working with them and we want to know what you are doing to be so successful with them". I swallowed hard and said, "I just treat them like they are human beings". It was too simple of an answer than what they were looking for. The answer lost me credibility with the staff. But it was fine with me. God had changed my heart to see all beings as of great worth and worthy of love and respect.

38 years later, I am a Pastoral Psychotherapist and church pastor. That one lesson learned while at Elgin State Mental Hospital carried me through countless encounters with many people in very humble situations.

It was a foundational epiphany.

Thomas A. Zimmerman
Bourbonnais, Illinois

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