People are more than the sum of their parts, of course - and that is why I find it so important to let my anthropologist out for a walk.
I was reviewing these 'field notes' from some time I spent teaching at a college - and I wondered how different the intervention plans would be if they both came to an occupational therapy clinic with similar injuries or needs:
Penny and Natalie are moving in two different directions. I watched their trajectories intersect for a couple months and it provided a lot material to think about.
Let me start by saying that they don't even know each other. But they are the same age - having both just turned 21. Natalie will graduate in a year from a professional college program and Penny will still be working as a housekeeper at the college.
Natalie celebrated in the typical college way. Her friends made her wear a t-shirt all day that announced her birthday and they got her rip-roaring drunk to celebrate the occasion. Standard 21 year old college fare.
Penny didn't celebrate her birthday other than to have her mother watch the baby. Penny is a single mom, and so is not able to go out much with friends. Most of them have moved on anyway - they just don't have much in common with her now that she is a mom. Besides all this, her friends don't go out much anymore anyway - don't want to get into any fights with those students. Students are always talking down to townies.
Natalie dropped an essay on my desk today, hoping that it would meet approval for her acceptance into an Honor Society. This would be good on her resume, she posits.
Penny came and emptied my garbage can, standing in the same place that Natalie stood in, and told me how her baby's father couldn't be trusted, that he abuses drugs, that he just lost his job, and that she hates having to comply with handing over her daughter to him for court ordered (supervised) visitation.
Penny barely graduated from high school and was in special education classes. She tells me now that she needs help to do the math for her checkbook and that long division is beyond her comprehension. She thought about becoming a nursing aide but could not read well enough to understand those complicated medical terms.
Natalie studies for her classes. Based on her grades, she is having difficulty with those complicated medical terms too.
When Natalie comes back to the dorms after celebrating on a Friday night, Penny cleans up behind her.
Penny does not know Natalie, and so holds no direct animosity toward her. But those college students sometimes throw paper towels into the toilets and this backs them up. Penny made a sign and hung it up on the bathroom doors. It says:
The Janitorial Staff
I sit and stare at that sign every day, and I can't get over how very much it represents.