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Claudia Meium

Co-worker  September,2009/ April,2011

One of the best things I have ever done.

Within the first week of my arrival here, that is how I described my coming to Kyle.Those were the words I sent home, though perhaps I overstressed my happiness to reassure parents and friends who couldn't quite believe where I would be for the next year. But I have felt the truth of this since the beginning; it has now become a phrase I find myself repeating whenever someone from back home asks how life here is.

It is an opinion reinforced in little moments. Moments which could exist nowhere else. These times are most often shared with people in care; some occur only once, but some reoccur weekly or even daily. My afternoons are often spent making baskets or pottery with a man whose happiness can depend on how well you know the responses to his repeated questions, to reassure him that his world is functioning in its proper routine. This might seem silly, or tiresome, but then consider how it could feel to make someone's world right, and safe, and happy, by something so simple as saying the correct words. To make him feel glad, secure,and cared for. And then to realize that his happiness spreads itself onto your own mood. You mirror his smile, and reflect back the joy that makes him run toward you with a hug when seeing you for the first time that day.

Each day, I seem to find ever more that my phrase gains its strength from the people with whom I live and work, both the people I support and my fellow coworkers. Communities are of course made up of the people within them, and those whom I have found at Kyle do much to make life far more enjoyable. This is a lovely twist of fate, for the intensity of living so closely with people who began as strangers has decreased, as these people create the parts of life I most appreciate. The truth of my statement is also strengthened by the new skills and experiences this life provides. Things I had never done before, and never really imagined doing, have become habitual - taking a morning to cook a meal for an entire house of 14 people, entirely from scratch; spending afternoons in the autumn harvesting potatoes from the fields; helping the people we support make baskets and pottery;making homemade muesli and cakes; or devoting a morning to artwork at KCAT.

While supporting people, I have also found myself in situations I would never have dreamed to be in; most of these circumstances have been good, a few bad, and some too unique to place so simply into either field. And the setting in which these situations occur is a beautiful backdrop for this life. Each day I walk pathways that are becoming more familiar, and yet I must remember to look up and around at the sky and landscape cradling this community. Sometimes when the sun is sinking into the green of the fields, pulling vibrant violets and scarlets from the sky as it leaves, a few moments are necessary to simply admire the peace and beauty of these surroundings.

The truth of my phrase is not weakened by the difficulties of life here, but perhaps proven even more by them. Challenges exist not only in all that fills the hours, but also in their length and number.

Here,life and work are one, for youhave volunteered not just the hours of your daysfor a year, but your life for the year. Your very self -tobe taken andstretchedandsqueezed, but togrow greatly from the experience, to find new strengths and work over old weaknesses within yourself.

This life has taught me multiple lessons in the space of several months, not the least of which has been the valuable discovery of the lengths to which my patience reaches. Of course, moments arise when I feel stretched far too thin. When the hours feel far too long, too weighted down with responsibilities, and the space reserved for personal time is taken away by work. The work here is hard - it would be a lie to say anything different. This life is tiring, no doubt, but its difficulties are balanced against and outweighed by its rewards.

And even in the busy space of a workingday, it is difficult to lose track of this. For even when I feel as if all I desperately need is a holiday, and there is nothing I look forward to so much as my day off, a moment occurs that pulls me back into appreciation for why I am here, and love of it.

It is Thursday morning, and I am stuffed into the red bus with the other artists and dramatists from my house,Tigh Eoin, driving the winding road from Kyle to the nearby town of Callan, to spend a portion of our day at KCAT. Inside the bus around me, various sounds shift through the air: different voices fighting for space above the noise of the rattling hoist which would allow Emma's wheelchair to sit in the bus. It seems as though there is never silence with the people of Tigh Eoin, and key among these voices is Maria, who repeats phrases nearly constantly, something that has become a soundtrack to much of my time. It is now the end of a week wherein I woke myself up at 6:30 each morning in order to spend an hour waking Maria up; each morning dragging myself out of bed with greater and greater difficulty.

This morning the weather is chilled, so I peer at the beautiful green of Irish countryside and silhouetted trees through a frosty car window, with eyes tired from the hours behind me, but tired also with consideration of the day that lies ahead of me. However, in a moment, the thoughts shuffling themselves through my head quickly evaporate as Maria addresses me - interrupting herself to do so. Out of nowhere and a bit out of character, Maria says, "And thank you for waking me up every morning...Claudia. Thank you so much." She stalls before my name, and then hits on it with greater emphasis, to be clear to whom she speaks. She also stresses the so much, making it heavy with gratitude. Startled, my head clears of everything except appreciation for Maria, which I hope echoes the purity of her own gratefulness. I respond, fumbling somewhere between, "You're welcome," and "Thank you for getting up so well this morning."

Suddenly the day seems a bit brighter. Her brief comment makes today, the last before my day off, seem not so overwhelmingly long or difficult. Not that it shrinks the hours, but that it lessens their labour, cushioning the time with rediscovered enjoyment for the moments. Breathes fresh air on that phrase, which has thoroughly worn its way into my mind.

One of the best things I have ever done.

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