For it is in giving that we receive … A slowly evolving spiritual quest takes the narrator of From a Caregiver’s Point of View, book one of a two-part ‘travel memoir’, to a multitude of intentional communities over a roughly twenty year period, beginning in Glasgow, Scotland in 1988 and culminating in Jacksonville, Florida. What does he learn from these experiences and how does his search impact the lives of the people he interacts with, both within and outside the community context?
From A Caregiver’s Point of View is comprised of thirteen chapters. Chapter one, set in Glasgow, Scotland depicts the author’s first venture into life as an intentional community worker or assistant. He joins the city’s Simon Community, which provides temporary and longer-term housing options for chronically homeless people.
Chapter two describes a visit made to a Manchester-based English friend Ernie, a man in his sixties struggling to overcome the regrets he harbours in life. The focus of the following chapter is a second Simon Community, that of Cork City, Ireland.
Chapter four sees a chance encounter with some compatriots in an Athens budget hotel, notably Alan, a man who has succeeded in making travelling the world his vocation. Yet the peripatetic nature of his life has clearly not served him well in many respects.
In chapter five, at the beginning of a third trip to Europe and before beginning work in another Simon Community, there is a visit to Zorica, a pen pal from Banja Luka, Bosnia Herzegovina and also opportunities to reunite briefly with friends made elsewhere in Europe.
Following further community experience in Europe the interest begins turning toward North America. Chapter six covers the time spent as a live-in volunteer with the New York City Catholic Worker, another organisation serving homeless people, as well as several visits with Teresa, an upstate New York pen pal.
Chapter seven illustrates the largely non-verbal friendship that develops with Kay, a resident of one of the houses that makes up the Dublin Simon Community. A return period in the United States, beginning in 1993, allows for a first experience – in Seattle, Washington State – of life with another group of marginalised people, ie, the mentally and physically challenged.
Chapter nine, set in Manila, continues the focus on life and work with the disabled but concentrates more closely on the physical and emotional needs a caregiver might feel. Guatemala, a country nearing the end of a bitter civil war, is the subject of the next chapter. Dealing in turn with time spent with a local family learning Spanish and then a couple of stints with a group of internally displaced refugees in the country’s remote Petén jungle, again it becomes clear that all can be ‘marginalised’ in their way, that all need and deserve care.
Chapter eleven is set in Mobile, Alabama and like many sections before it, especially the Manila chapter, throws up ‘the two sides of the coin’ that is the caregiving vocation. The penultimate chapter twelve introduces Jesús, another long-term pen pal, met for the first time on a 2009 visit to Cuba.
Jacksonville’s Harbor House comprises the last chapter, specifically focusing on the endearing personalities and ways of the many residents met and lived with over the course of repeat spells with the community in the years 1998 to 2009.
Care giving, it seems, once commenced can never be stopped; it must be applied across the board. If the lessons learnt in intentional communities are truly taken to heart they will last a lifetime and encompass all in need. And, inevitably, in caring one is cared for.
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