Carol A. Hand
Looking back, I wonder if our meeting was really a chance encounter. Who would believe that an hour or so with a stranger could open up compelling possibilities for an unimagined future? Even though it’s hard to remember who I thought I’d become “when I really grew up,” I can hear it in the old cassette recording. Timid, resigned to live in obscurity, and self-effacing. Some days, I’m like that again. And on those days, I feel like a battle-wearied soul in a world gone mad. On those days, I’m convinced there’s absolutely nothing I can do to make a difference. Yet I also hear the soft lovely voice reflecting warmth and kindness on the cassette, carefully modulated but honest thoughtful responses, and the lilting infectious laughter that has sometimes filled airplanes or restaurants with joy. There are days when I feel that, too. I have had the courage to face challenges and conflicts head on with nothing more than the belief that things could change if I did my homework and remained mindful and fully present no matter what I encountered. And sometimes, situations were transformed, and sometimes not. But either way, there was deep satisfaction in knowing that I did what I felt needed to be done to raise awareness about liberatory alternatives and possibilities.
It was the winter of 1977. At the time, I was living in Venice, California, an escapee from a commune that had nearly shattered my belief in people and possibilities. Escape meant starting over from scratch with a six-year old daughter and a partner who couldn’t let go of the past. It meant living in one tiny room in an old hotel near the beach, a disgustingly filthy shared bathroom on the first floor, and cockroaches falling through the ceiling from the room above ours. It meant working as a waitress on the night shift and walking my daughter to and from school in a dangerous neighborhood.
Drawing: Carol A. Hand
I don’t remember why I decided to see an astrologer, or how I found this particular one, but our one and only meeting proved to be powerfully transformative. I wish I could thank her and let her know how important our conversation turned out to be, but all I have left after so many years and so many moves is a cassette tape-recording without her name.
Why listen to this old tape now? Perhaps it’s because my battle scars are healing, similar to the ones I carried so many years ago when we met. But I really think it’s because I no longer want to feel like I’m sitting on the sidelines in a crazy world that is threatening the well-being of everyone I love. So I pulled out the old tape and typed out the dialogue to see if I could discover just what inspired me to go back to school and finish my degrees four years after the 1977 chance encounter. The message from the astrologer gave me courage to begin to discover the strengths she highlighted.
Memories from 1983
What can you do when you’re caught in the middle of a dispute about who has access to your volunteer efforts? I remember my first practicum placement as a social work student. One of my tasks was to help organize a new statewide organization for the providers of a relatively new service in Wisconsin, “adult daycare.” At the time, there were several models for providing services for adults who needed somewhere to go during the day because of physical or cognitive conditions that made self-care too difficult. The social model merely provided a place to socialize, meals, activities, and staff to ensure safety. The health maintenance model provided additional services to help with medication and treatment. The third model focused on a blend of social and health maintenance. Obviously, health maintenance models required more professional nursing staff and hence, were more expensive.
On the second day of my practicum placement, I met with the professional staff from the two agencies that were interested in forming a statewide association for adult daycare providers. As they began arguing which agency should host my work, it was clear that this would not be an easy year. They had different ideas about the model that should be the focus of the organization. As the argument grew more heated and appeared to be leading to a final dissolution of any further collaboration, I interrupted to remind them that I was a resource. If they really wanted to create an organization, they would need to agree to work together. It didn’t really matter to me which agency housed my placement, but it did matter that they were both willing to work with me toward a shared goal. They calmed down as we outlined a simple plan for beginning the daunting task ahead.
I discovered that the conflict between the two professionals was mild compared to the dissent among providers across the state. Filling out the necessary nonprofit incorporation papers was easy. Getting people to agree on the purpose and structure of the organization took far more thought and effort. And a funny thing happened. I was tired of the futility of writing papers for classes that never resulted in real world benefits. Because I was also taking a class in interpersonal skills that required being videotaped, I got to know the social work department’s videographer, Dennis. (In these days of austerity, it’s hard to believe that there were ever such positions in the old days!)
I asked Dennis if he ever got to do educational videos. When he said not recently, but he would like to, I asked if he would like to travel through the state with me to interview people and film different adult daycare centers. Of course, I had to get clearance from faculty and administrators, but we found ourselves on the road, often loading his video equipment into my little Honda. We mostly focused on the southeastern part of the state because, like many other resources, centers were located in the most populated areas.
My two field supervisors were supportive and both agreed to be interviewed. One provided an overview of adult daycare. The other showcased her socialization model and explained why she felt it was the most appropriate, cost effective approach. We filmed the two other models and interviewed the directors, and then began the editing process. I wondered why I ever thought this would be easier than a paper! Before we edited our videos, I had to write the script and figure out how to sequence select material from hours and hours of tapes! Yet script in hand, Dennis helped me find a student in the theater department to read the script on audiotape. Then we began the tedious job of arranging clips. When we were finally done, I realized that it took at least one hour to edit each minute of our 33-minute final tape.
Photo Credit: Aging Wisconsin – 1987
The agency that had finally housed my placement hosted a premiere of the final product: Daycare: Censored for Adults Only! A fascinating and unanticipated thing happened during the well-attended premiere. But first, I want to digress. I saw myself on video for the first time in the interpersonal skills class that Dennis taped. I remember my first reaction. I had never realized that my nose was so pronounced – a sharp beak that reminded me of Cyrano de Bergerac. When I walked up the stairs after seeing the video, I remember being surprised that my nose wasn’t bumping into the walls three feet away. It was truly humbling and left me with this odd ability to see myself from another vantage point whenever I was speaking in public.
I witnessed the same humbling experience among the daycare directors who saw themselves on tape during the premiere. Maybe it wasn’t their first time, but I know they were so shocked that they actually listened to what their peers had to say. Afterwards, they came together humbly to discuss the benefits of each of the models and were energized to support an organization that would include all of the various models.
Now I have to admit that the video is embarrassingly amateurish and endearingly silly, but it did work to bring people together. By the time my internship was done, the incorporation papers were submitted and approved and the new provider organization was ready for another intern to staff it as an organizer and grant-writer to take it to the next level. (And in case you’re wondering, I passed my practicum and classes but Denis and I weren’t nominated for an Academy Award.) Unfortunately, my only copy of the video was lost sometime in the past during one of my many moves, and the one listed in Worldcat disappeared from the library years ago as well. The video did feature a gifted jazz pianist, a van driver, who played for us during our visit to one of the sites. (In the process of hunting for a copy of the tape, I reconnected with old friends and also learned that the organization still exists.)
I sincerely doubt that I would have discovered these abilities had it not been for my chance encounter with an astrologer. I was so timid and battle weary. She also taught me an even more important lesson by the way she treated me during one of my most vulnerable times. We can use our different kinds of knowledge, our different kinds of skills to either liberate or oppress others. It’s a choice we have every moment. It really never mattered to me whether I believed in astrology or not. What made a difference in my life at that time and for decades to come was someone who used the tools she had with kindness and compassion in order to help someone in need. It’s something I have tried to do consistently in my own life and work through the years. It’s something I know I need to continue to do with renewed intensity during these crazy times.
Drawing: Carol A. Hand
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