Guarded Pains Of A Suffering Man: Nat’s Conclusion

Nat had arrived for a second session. He was clearly guarded, yet I could detect a suffering man. I only heard a portion of the whole that comprises Nat’s world. Before he could consider opening up further with me, he posited salient questions; inquiries into who I am.

He needed and really demanded to know about me. My professional licenses and years of service would not suffice to offer Nat a rationale to progress to move ahead in therapy. While my relationships ‘with African American men and women a lifetime including professional friendships and intimacy, Nat needed more. Anyone can layout experiences to honor relationships of any kind. In a therapeutic relationship, I felt comfortable sharing while sparing the details. That is a private matter. Even intimate relationships that are not clearly defined are up for speculation. While as a white man, I could neither identify nor relate to Nat’s life, I pointed out a critical item. I could avail myself to listen to hear Nat’s suffering. Perhaps the best I might offer comes up short. I gave Nat an opportunity to continue therapy with me or to move onto other options. While awaiting Nat’s answer, I placed a call to Miriam, a colleague and friend from the Buffalo area.

She retired after years in the helping field. I inquired about any African-American therapists she might recommend.

When a client decides to forgo treatment, it’s ethical and imperative to offer three names for referral. I wanted this information. I, also, contacted Billy to seek contacts he knew.

Several days passed without a word from Nat. Billy and I conferred on referrals. Still adhering to his professional ethics, Billy did not open up lines of dialogue. He maintained his role steadfastly. I flashed back to my first professional job after college.

I worked at a Job Corps out west. The majority of the population was African-American young men. Their collective plight, school drop-outs, unemployed, and some carrying legal problems set a tone for a year of new experiences.

Inner city young men came from cities thousands of miles away. Helping them to achieve their goals was like post-graduate education. “O.J.T.” we called it for them; though apropos for me, too. On the job training. The two counselors, one Filipino and one African American served as mentors and teachers. They guided me to serve these troubled young men effectively. The young men educated me daily with the richness of culture in music, sports, and humor. Then plight touched deep into my heart. Nat’s ability to touch into my heart gave rise to memories at the Job Corps. Life some say is a process. The experience at the Job Corps as a VISTA volunteer was a heavy duty process towards choosing therapy as my profession.

Much as how we grow in mind, body, and spirit is to go inside ourselves. We allow ourselves to be vulnerable, internalize the experience and possibly grow. Lessons about life come forth regularly. Sometimes we get to pay close attention, learn and grow. Being true to oneself opens up opportunities to grow. Nat had that effect on me. We live in a world where sociological studies conclude that African-Americans to a greater or lesser degree are still enslaved.

Employment, health-care, education, hate-crimes, racial divide for starters draw lesser opportunities in this progressive world.

History brings our attention from past experiences to the present and with foresight to the future.

Not allowed equal opportunities as a whole race, all of us are the answer for a better healthy world. I really am interested in hearing Nat’s voice.

Two days later, he called. He found an African-American therapist and set an appointment with the woman. He was willing to drive the long distance to meet her. He thanked me for my time.

I asked him how he’d been feeling. “Confused, Marshall. I’ve got lots on my mind. I hope this woman therapist will help me. I’m sorry if I hurt you in any way. It wasn’t my intent to do so.

I’m glad for Billy’s friendship with you. I’ve had so few friends in my life. Guess I don’t trust too easily. But, it’s kept me somewhat sane and surely safe. Maybe one day I can become friends with a white man. ‘What do you say, Marshall?”

I was smiling. You know, Nat, I think that might happen. For all the unknown numbers of white folks who are racists and seek to degrade African-Americans, there are, I believe, countless many more who want equality, justice, and equitable opportunities. Be well. Be healthy. I wish you and your family the highest and the best. You’ve helped to educate me. For that alone I am eternally grateful. We hung up and I thanked God for the righteous experience. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.