Sunday, February 28, 2010

Poetry on the Sabbath / Lloyd


All my life I have been careful to avoid employment that required me to work on Sundays. In our family, Judy and I made it a church and family day. And I think it helped us create a culture that celebrated interpersonal, family relationships at the center of our lives. The Sunday difference became an important core value even though my employment frequently uprooted us, and we had to keep starting over again in new communities and schools. It helped especially when I had to commute far distances and work long hours--unable to be home for dinner every night.

So it was gut wrenching experience this month when new management at the maximum security forensic psychiatric hospital where I work, arbitrarily and totally unresponsive to my pleas for accommodation, reassigned my days off from Sunday/Monday to Friday/Saturday.  Level-of-care hospital service is 24/7; and so I realize now how fortunate I have been to have had Sunday’s off these many years.


To set Sunday apart I proposed and was granted permission to facilitate a Poetry Reading and Writing Group. We only have a few participants each time, but the subject matter provides an opportunity to indentify and discuss values; and surprising enough, they are often spiritual and intensely personal.

We’ve been talking about relationships. And to illustrate the dynamic nature of relationships, I offered the following observation about couples: Your girlfriend may become your wife, your wife may become pregnant, but everything changes when she becomes a mother. Here’s the poem with illustrations:

“When Girlfriends Become Mothers”

I married my girlfriend.
And when she became pregnant
she moved about clumsily,
but we were much the same.

Then my girlfriend gave birth.
She became a mother
and I, a father.
And we had to become reacquainted.



When I worked in a New York City Methadone Maintenance Clinic, clients told me, “We don’t have friends, we have associates.”  One of the participants in our poetry group told me that “friends” differ from “associates” in that the former is “motivated by love,” and the latter by “selfish gain.”  Through the years I’ve asked street people to differentiate the two but never received such a succinct and thoughtful response.

The same respondent put together the following poem:

Policemen love felons,
Psychiatric nurses love psychos, and
Heart surgeons love heart patients.
They have compassion on the patients
as they treat them,
But not the same kind of compassion
that made them heart surgeons.
The compassion becomes complete
(the two compassions become 1).
Husband and Wife.

Next week they want to explore “Dignity.”  While these men may all be felons and suffer from a variety of serious and persistent psychiatric disorders, I have learned they are not throwaways. I expect to learn a lot and come away buoyed up on my Sunday’s. And hopefully I can provide a venue for them that is decidedly different from the intently secular institution.

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