The Doctor from Doctor Who is not particularly wise—in fact, he has all the tact and maturity of a twelve-year-old boy—but he recently taught me an invaluable lesson.
I work in a group home for gentlemen with mental and physical disabilities. As you can imagine, my job is often amusing, sometimes heartbreaking and never predictable.
When I began working in a group home, I felt pity for some of its residents. Their lives are often dark and difficult. Some endure chronic physical pain. Most suffer from depression. Few are ever visited by friends or family. All of them are hurting in some way and few of them understand why.
At first I pitied only these gentlemen, but as months passed I realized they aren’t the only ones deserving of compassion.
Most of my coworkers are hurting. Some are divorced. Some have family issues. Many struggle with financial woes or health problems. I’ve heard tearful stories, bitter complaints and vicious arguments I wish I could forget.
Apart from work, I have friends facing heartrending difficulties: divorce, debt, depression, loneliness and grief.
I’m constantly surrounded by people whose problems I can’t solve, and I hate it.
At one point in Doctor Who, the Doctor and his friend learn that a person whose life they tried to save committed suicide. The Doctor’s companion is overwhelmed with grief. “We didn’t make a difference at all,” she says.
“I wouldn’t say that,” replies the Doctor, blinking back tears. He adds:
The way I see it, every life is a pile of good things and bad things. The good things don’t always soften the bad things, but vice versa, the bad things don’t necessarily spoil the good things or make them unimportant. And we definitely added to his pile of good things.
I may not be able to fix someone’s life, but nothing will ever prevent me from adding to his pile of good things.
I can’t fix my coworker’s marriage. I can’t take away the pain of the gentleman with arthritis or the hopelessness of the gentleman with depression. I can’t promise healing to a hurting friend.
I can, however, be patient. I can listen. I can pray. I pretend to be terrified when the gentlemen with whom I work tell me there are mummies in the cupboards or a mouse in my shoe.
On an afternoon a few weeks ago, just a day or two after I remembered this lesson from the Doctor, I was administering medications at work when a resident of the group home ambled up to me.
“This is for you,” he said with a grin, holding out a cup of coffee.
It occurred to me in that moment that I’m not the only one trying to add to the piles of good things around me.
Sometimes other people, even hurting people, add to mine.