The Unspeller Revisited

From the archives...

In my former life, I was a case manager, working with people struggling with mental illness. I had a favorite (yes, I had favorites!) client named Paul.

He was about sixty-five at the time and the spitting image of Yoda. Only his head wasn't quite as wide... but he was very short and super cute in an odd sort of way. His look was not the only odd thing about Paul.

He showed up one cold night at Regions Hospital and ended up in the behavioral health unit (that's the pc term for the psych ward). It turned out he'd been homeless most of his life and had never gotten caught up in "the system" before the ripe old age of 65.

When I got him an apartment through the program I worked for, he had no idea how to live in it. He lined things up all over the floor in rows. He put ham and milk in the cupboard and cereal in the fridge. He opened the windows in the freezing winter and never locked the door.

I love this guy.

The quirkiest thing about Paul is that he carried around a notebook and wrote things as you said them to him. When we met for the first time at the hospital, I said "Hi, I'm Heather." He wrote (VERY slowly and VERY carefully) HEATHER in his book, and then pronounced me "Header."

He sat quietly then and repeated over and over "No H, No E, No A, No T, No H, No E, No R."

I didn't know what to do. I had been unspelled! I soon learned that Paul did this with EVERYTHING anyone said to him. He unspelled it.

"Paul, you need to lock your door." He would respond, "How do you spell that?" It would take a long time to spell it out, waiting for him to scribble out each letter, but he would do it right there, standing in the hall. Then after it was spelled out in the notebook, we'd stand there a while longer while Paul unspelled it (out loud).

No L, no O, no C, no K.... and so it went.

(He never did lock the door.)

Yeah, it was hard to wait during this process sometimes. But I didn't get impatient with our long conversations filled with written and then unspelled words. Not because I'm such a saint, but because Paul is so endearing. It's amazing what you can learn when you step out of your comfort zone and into someone else's troubled life.

(originally posted 10/25/07)

Yesterday was a historical day. Huge. Many people are ecstatic. Many are disappointed.

I've been a bit quiet and overwhelmed these last political months. Watching heated debates between candidates made me a bit nauseous. Hearing passionate and sometimes hateful opinions over which party is right also made me a bit nauseous. The commercials definitely made me completely nauseous.

Now that the election is over, I'm thinking a lot about what happens next.

So much good can happen when we set ourselves aside and act in love. But these last months that whole idea seemed to fly right out the window, holding hands with tact and soaring far away from our country. In it's place we were left with a whole lot of pride and even more slander. And somehow we accepted that, holding to the idea that we have the right to think and say hateful things if we're scared or if we feel challenged.

Now that the election is over, I might be insane for hoping that we can move forward without so much division. But I still hope.

My old client Paul was on to something. Sometimes we need to take a good hard look at ourselves and unspell a few things. Maybe remove a little pride or a tone of arrogance. Or maybe sift out some hate, finding humility in the truth that we're no better than the people we disagree with, since in the end we're all the same. We're in a process, learning as we go and maybe even fighting a lot of the same battles. Yes, a bunch of silly screw ups who need grace are we.

This might be a crazy idea, but maybe we can use our passionate feelings and energy to do something rather than just saying something. Maybe we can even step out and get to know people who are nothing like us, opening our world views, and focusing on what we can do to love people that need our help.

Just an idea.

24 clicked right here to comment:

Mrs. Dunbar said...

What a notable thougth. It these crazy times, I am so trying to step out of the place I was and into a more humble loving spot. If not for myself than for my boys. My purpose now is not the biggest house, the nicest car, the $200 jeans but to show them the love of Christ.
I like your ideas Heather. Good job!

Carolyn said...

And, although I disagree with him on many points, I think that our new president gets that point. I think he wants to inspire the best Americans in each of us and encourage us to take up our responsibilities again.

I think I'll read the Bible instead of listening to Obama speeches when I need encouragement but, you know, to each their own.

Debbie said...

Wow. How is it you are such a gifted writer? This was great Heather.

K and/or K said...

I love your idea.
I love today!
I have permanent chills of hope.

Kristina P. said...

I was excited when the candidates were officially chosen. I'm Independent, so I was OK with either candidate. But over the past couple of months, it's been the same old, same old. Mudslinging, nastiness, etc.

I've just grown super apathetic in regards to politics.

Erin said...

My husband is a psychologist, so he probably has some stories like this too. I enjoyed reading about Paul. And I agree with you on the whole political front.

a Tonggu Momma said...

As someone from a split household, I've been striving to accomplish this for quite some time. I guess the Lord knows that some of us need a little longer or we'd be left in the dust. LOL.

Brooke said...

Did you write this for me? I think I needed to read this today, and I really appreciate you writing it. I alsp really appreciate what you wrote on my blog. It really helped me. Thank you.

Rhonda said...

Well put! Paul had it together on this one. I too am all about unifying now and moving forward.

I live in Connecticut and have been here 10 years....this is so out of my Arizona roots and I have loved every minute of being here. Simply to experience everything the East offers...because I know our family will not be here for much longer.

You're only as happy as you allow yourself to be, and it is truly up to us to make sure we make the most of life and all the great opportunities.

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

well said, Heather. :)

happygeek said...


*MARY* said...

I think your name should be Mary because you're practically perfect every way.

CC said...

Very well said. And Paul? Very, very interesting!

Melanie J said...

I am now in love with the idea of unspelling, and if we could unspell some of the ugliness from the campaign, that would be a truly beautiful thing.

Kazzy said...

b-e-a-u-t-i-f-u-l Thank you for your wonderful insight.

LisAway said...

LOVE this post!! (Submit it!!)

Paul is SO interesting.

I really hope that one day there can be campaigns wherein candidates talk about their ideas and possibly why their opponent's won't work. The end. It's so tiring. I used to think, "Why do otherwise good people slander each other like that?" Unfortunately it appears that those things actually DO help them somehow! What!?!

I can't wait for the day when the American people don't want to hear crap about the candidate they aren't choosing.

Heidi said...

An awesome post. Some people, like you, can be both funny and insightful. Me, just crazy. You know that.

Sarah said...

I often think it's people like Paul who are given to us to show us how we should really be -- to teach us patience and love and kindness. I really hope the country can pull together and welcome a new season. It's kind of exhausting fighting and I think we're all a little tired.

Becky said...

Yes! Thank you!!

Eowyn said...

Wow! What a great thought. Unspelling pride and arrogance. I wholeheartedly agree about this whole political process.

I am praying for a good next four years. I do believe that Obama could do it, if he is the person he says he is, and not just another politician. Here's hoping.

Nina said...

What a great post! You are so right, we all need to step out of our comfort zones and do more and preach less.

Paul sounds like a wonderful person who has taught you a lot.

Heidi Ashworth said...

Oh! This is just so wonderful! In every way! And not just because the Big Guy is mentally ill. You are pretty brilliant. Just think what you could do if you got enough sleep!

MoziEsmé said...

I love this post! I share your opinions on the whole election thing - I've been rather relieved to be out of the country this time around...

I worked for a voc rehab for people with developmental disabilities before coming to Mozambique, and Paul sounds a lot like some of the folks I worked with. There was so much that could be learned at that place - I was incredibly blessed while there.

Elizabeth said...

I actually came across this post the other day when I was reading through some of your archives. I love it. I'm not so good at stepping out and offering help to people unlike me, or even people like me. I keep to myself too much. I like your idea!

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