This post is by David, a resident of St. Columba House in Denver
Working directly with people who have trauma, as we do in the Colorado Episcopal Service Corps, is hard work! One difficulty I find is that I feel responsible for how the people I work with are doing – and this outlook always leads to frustration, because I cannot stop bad things happening to these people. So if a homeless youth I work with at Urban Peak (my site placement) is struggling, I sometimes feel like I’ve failed them.
I recently found a snippet of wisdom that speaks directly to this attitude. The director of programs of Urban Peak bought all of us staff members a book called Trauma Stewardship: An Everyday Guide to Caring for Self While Caring for Others by Laura van Dernoot Lipsky.
It’s a good book, and my favorite part is a quote the author dug up from, of all places, The Lord of the Rings trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien.
This quote is uttered by Gandalf, the good wizard, as he tries to help the imperiled Kingdom of Gondor defend itself from the mighty armies of Sauron the ultravillain.
If I were Gandalf in this situation, I think I might start thinking of myself as personally responsible for Gondor’s safety, and worry incessantly. But Gandalf has a different point of view:
“The rule of no realm is mine, neither Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail in my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything that passes through this night can still grow fairer or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I too am a steward. Did you not know?”
The more I read this passage the more amazing it sounds. It is so freeing. Everything that is good is in Gandalf’s care, but he is not in complete control – so he is free to tend to the world around him, trusting that at least some of the good things he tends to will retain the ability to further bloom and grow after his time with them ends.
So in other words, Gandalf is not the master but a steward. He is a gardener, not the controller of the destinies of the all the plants in the garden.
This is a wonderful image for us who are working with folks dealing with trauma – we are not responsible for how their lives turn out, but as people who are God’s creation, they are in our care and we are free to work with them, with the knowledge that they can bear fruit and flower again in days to come whether we’re there or not.