I was in the big general hospital, being evaluated by the psych staff for suicidal depression. The night before I had come precariously close to killing myself. At age 72, part of my crisis had to do with age. “I’m used up. I have nothing left to offer and no one is interested in what I do have. I might as well not be here.”
I was in one of the rooms in the E.R. with my really good buddy John, who had ordered the ambulance for me that morning. A young woman who identified herself as Bailey had come in with her little typewriter to register me. My first judgment about Bailey was kind of harsh (“kind of mousy”) – but then I was not in a real positive state of mind.
Which made even more surprising what happened next. Halfway through Bailey registering me, I stopped her and said, “You’re a very real person.” “What?” “Yeah – you’re genuine. You know, for the native Americans that was the highest compliment: ‘You’re a real human being.'”
“You’re a real human being.”
Bailey pulled herself up a couple of inches taller, pointed her finger into the air and said “Authentic.” I had gotten her. I had affirmed her for something that actually meant a lot to her. It was not some generic thing like “You’re a nice person.” It felt really good to her because she felt seen. She was doing that which she very much wants to do.
Bailey left. I pointed my arm towards John and – with tears running down my face, as they are right now – said emphatically “That’s what I do.” And for just a little while the charge “I have nothing left to contribute” had no power over me.