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Step Two is Called Hope

By Alizabeth Leake Worley

In eleventh grade, I had a friend named Nayoung from Korea. She wore her bangs to the side and tilted her head back to keep her blue-framed glasses from sliding down her nose. Sometimes we ate lunch together in the room we had just had class in. She had a small purple cooler and ate peaches, a Cup-a-Noodles, and a salad every day with the same fat silver fork. We talked about Clarisse in Fahrenheit 451, our families, or a story the teacher shared. After the first month or two when she began to understand more English, she asked me where the Appalachians were, what happened at Little Big Horn, and who was this American Poet again, the hospital man who wrote his Song? She taught me to write my name, her name, and a few other words in Korean. Whenever a conversation lulled or if I just wanted to talk to her, I asked about a word and she taught me how to speak.

The year Nayoung and I went to school, on Sundays I drove Terry, a woman with an oxygen tank and a hernia, to addiction recovery meetings. The meetings modeled the Alcoholics Anonymous program through an LDS lens and used a book that discussed each of the twelve steps along with teachings of the scriptures and prophets. On Mondays, I looked at my notes before moving on to the next chapter. Once, Nayoung came by and asked to look at the book. I told her she could, and she thumbed through the first chapter.

“Why do you have this book?”

“I don’t know. It’s a good book. I heard a guy say that all of us are addicted to pride, that everyone could go through addiction recovery. Last night, in a meeting, someone said that pain is what makes us realize a power greater than ourselves. You know, talking about how you can’t do everything by yourself, you have to turn for help. I’ve always wondered how people make it through addictions or really tough things, if they do make it.”

“Hmm . . .” She turned the page and put her finger on the heading. “Step two is called Hope.”

When I spoke to Nayoung about the recovery book, I had a hard time seeing myself as a hopeful person. Just before the school year started, my parents had split, and I don’t remember trying to make new friends with anyone else.

Towards the end of the school year, I mentioned that I was hoping to go to Korea for the summer, and that maybe I could visit Nayoung.

“Yeah!” she said, “You could stay at my house, and we could go somewhere every day. You could better know Korean.”

I talked to my dad about it, and he said he could probably find discounted tickets, that maybe I could go. I asked Nayoung what airport was closest to her and what airlines it used, and she sent me information about booking a flight. I asked her, “Would your parents let me stay?”

“Yes, they love people! And you’re American.”

 

A year after meeting Nayoung, I signed up for an EMT course.  I don’t know what I expected, but I know what I wanted. I thought I would gain a better perspective of what it meant to be in an emergency. Of course, I had plans of using the certification, preferably throughout my undergraduate college degree, but mostly I was interested in the crises that EMTs deal with.

The first day of class, the teacher stood at the front of the classroom in white scrubs with black flowers and a fierce, cocked jaw, about a head shorter than me. “You better care about whoever is in your ambulance as if they were your family, your brother or sister. That’s how I’d like to be treated, wouldn’t you? It is not your job to teach lessons; you give a patient who has overdosed the same treatment you give everyone else. Now, you’re going to run into people who are the biggest asses you’ve met, and, duh. This is the worst day of their life, and they’re going to make it your worst day too. If this offends you”—she held up her fist and extended a crooked middle finger, walking across the front of the room—“then you probably wanna get out of this class because you will see this every day you work as an EMT.”

Nothing could have hooked me more.

 

I’ve always had a cautious hunger for the new and unfamiliar. You could call this wanderlust, except that I haven’t so much as wandered out of my own county. In fact, I have only left Utah County for family moves and vacations or for business. Yet I pore over travel magazines, foreign cookbooks, and international news channels. I’ve taken Russian and French, read most of the Qur’an and Tao Te Ching, and earned advanced belts in a Brazilian martial art, Capoeira. This stunted wanderlust is not limited to places and cultures, but deals with themes, routines, traumas, and disasters.

When Nayoung offered to let me stay in Korea, I planned far enough to send her an email of flight times to Seoul. My dad said he could get me the tickets; I just needed to know when she could pick me up. But then, I never did visit Korea. The one time Nayoung and I spoke after she went back to Seoul, it wasn’t even intentional; she had meant to call someone else. I tried to email Nayoung again, but even if she got it, my letter was distant and tired. I thought she wouldn’t respond, so I sent a letter that wasn’t worth responding to.

 

Part of me wonders if I wanted to try EMT work because failure was part of the job. In 2011, a month sample gave a six-percent survival rate for unwitnessed cardiac arrests treated by paramedics. Perhaps I thought that it would be easier to fail if I was already expected to. And maybe it would have been easier. But I never did. A year later, I pulled out of the EMT internship I was going to do my first year of college. I’d finished everything—written exams, 18 hours of ride-alongs, 100 patient assessments, and more. But I didn’t take the state test. I knew I would pass, and that scared me. I couldn’t bear the pain that would come from investing myself in the lives of those I might not be able to help—I couldn’t spend all I had on CPR for a man with a stopped heart only to find a do-not-resuscitate order at the hospital, couldn’t pump saline into a child’s burnt body only to see the light in her eyes go out.

 

From the first day I drove Terry home from the Addiction Recovery Program, or ARP meeting, I thought she was a sure success. After the meeting, we went into her small apartment, crowded with pictures and decorations, oxygen tubing strung across the floor from door to door. After swallowing a tablespoon of sugar to raise her blood sugar, she told me the long story of her abusive child and apathetic parents, a counselor who laughed at her for wanting to go to college, and her struggles as a BYU student dealing with addiction and depression. She told me of the relief she felt when her bishop kindly looked at her and said, “Go and sin no more.” She was beginning to repair her relationship with her sister and was excited to attend meetings regularly, to be rid of her life-long thorn. There was, I thought, no chance of losing her, and that meant I could invest. Each week I called and texted to make sure she was coming, I made a point of leaving time after meetings for us to talk, and always, I made sure my parents would let me use the car and that the car had plenty of fuel for this wild ride.

With this perspective and hope, I sat in on high-stake, crisis-mode meetings, and I felt the humility that comes from being in circumstances bigger than you can handle, the realization that individual strength isn’t enough. This humility is the power of change; a woman hits rock-bottom, a place where it could get worse, because it always can, but where all that has made a lifestyle or an addiction tolerable is taken away. In the meetings, I felt my own inability to secure what was good, but I wasn’t ready to look at my own need to surrender, “willing to submit to all things which the father would inflict,” to let my heart be broken. Almost always, entrance to recovery and healing and health starts from “rock-bottom.”

 

Once I gave Nayoung a piano lesson. She had heard me playing in the theatre room and cautiously walked up to listen a week before, and after she asked if I could teach her. When I started the lesson, she leaned against the side of the piano and over, looking down at the keys from behind the music. When I invited her to try, she shuffled in front of the piano and played with one hand, still standing.

After, she asked me, “Why doesn’t people talk to each other?”

“A lot of people talk. I talk to a lot of people.”

“Yeah, I guess. I don’t know. Do you think I’m okay?”

“What? Yeah, why wouldn’t you be?”

“I just wish I could hide a little more. Then everything could be more simple.”

“Why would you want that?” I wanted to help her see things better, in part because I cared and in part because I needed to believe in not hiding from myself. The thing about hiding is it gives you the illusion that you don’t have to care, that nothing can get to you.

“I don’t know, just because.” She stuck out her lip and paused. Then she scowled, scrunching her nose and furrowing her eyebrows, and we both laughed.

 

There are two types of emergencies: medical and trauma. The second comes with falls, crashes, burns, cuts, gun shots, bone fractures—injuries. Usually, that is why you want to be an EMT. Unless you are in the heart of city or the heart of country, there are fewer trauma calls in a week than there are medical in a day, although some people call just because they are lonely. Medical is all internal—cancer, pregnancy, infection, swollen bronchioles, a core temperature below ninety degrees Fahrenheit, and most of all, complications of the heart. In the field there are questions for a medical patient that you don’t ask a trauma patient, for the heart has hidden hurts. We want to know, when did it start? Does anything make it better or worse? What type of pain, tearing, cramping, crushing? Does it radiate? Has this happened before? How severe is it on a scale from one to ten? Everyone says ten.

The same time that Nayoung left to go home, Terry stopped going to ARP meetings. She stayed home sick a week, went to her sister’s the next, and stopped answering my calls to arrange rides.  At that time, I couldn’t have said why I felt so hurt, but it seemed to me I was experiencing a kind of emergency.

Even without Terry, I still went to the meetings out of habit, and maybe sentimentality. After one meeting, a coordinator came up to me and said, “Just keep working those steps, Lizzie. You’ve got a lot to work on.” It surprised me; I thought I went to the meetings mostly for other people. I went home and looked through the book, not sure it actually applied to me. After a few minutes, I found something I had written in the margins, under the “Hope” chapter heading:people, relationships, health. Of course, all of these fail, and the cost of investing could kill you. When they do fail, how can we keep trying?

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. Psalm 51:17

 

After school ended, a few days before Nayoung went home, she gave me a pair of wooden ducks in a silk sack. One of the beaks was painted green and the other red with the wood visible beneath. I took them out one at a time. Each cupped the length of my palm, a little skinnier, a little taller, the weight of an egg. “Remember,” she said, “this is wedding gift, for happy marriage.” I asked her how to say goodbye, a word I don’t remember anymore.

I went home that day and played the piano for hours, Invention 13 by Bach, until my fingers were swollen and my ears stiff. Sometimes when you play a song on the piano, your fingers trip, and if they don’t slip back into position almost immediately, then they never will. It’s like your heart, that way. A heart tremor can only last a moment before it goes into fibrillation and then, the way to bring it back is to stop it and be still, completely, and hope it restarts without you—the way it started in the first place.

When an end comes, it is trust that stills our shaken hearts, the hope in us by which the rest takes care of itself.

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About Alizabeth Leake Worley

Alizabeth Worley is a BYU Human Development major with an English minor. In addition to an English major and many theater and media arts classes, she works at the BYU writing center. Her husband, Michael, is a new attorney practicing in religious freedom and family policy litigation. Alizabeth graduates in one semester, after which she will continue writing and hopes to work in the hospital as a child life specialist.

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