Tuesday, April 7, 2009

"The Ward" by Roger Thomas, Part Nine

"Does this mean I can't stay to watch? I'm considering undertaking this treatment myself. The doctor was quite emphatic about the necessity, but I'd like to know a little more about what I'm getting into."

"Oh, you're perfectly welcome to stay as long as you like, dear", Angela reassured her. "We'll be happy to answer any questions. I was just trying to explain that there's only so much you can understand until you enter into the treatment."

Jillian stayed through the session, which entailed some exercises, some talks from older patients, and a meal together to which Jillian was invited, though she didn't eat much. Everyone was welcoming, and though most seemed shy about speaking much to this stranger, the most common encouragement she received was to sign her paper and start the treatment as soon as she could.

In talking to the patients, Jillian noticed something interesting about their attitudes toward the Ward. It was clear that they regarded the Ward as somewhere they were passing through on their way to Outside. Jillian would have thought this would have made them impatient and dissatisfied, but the opposite appeared to be true. Since they had low expectations for the Ward, it was not a disappointment that the Ward fell short of an ideal place to live. Their treatment was rigorous, but it served to remind them that little could be expected of their life here – in fact, they were even encouraged to use the difficulties of Ward life to toughen themselves. Their focus was beyond, on the Outside that they were aiming for.
Yet this did not make them cavalier about their lives in the Ward. They pitied those whose lives reached no further than the walls, and wanted to help as many as they could to join them Outside. Jillian would have asked them what they thought of the nice doctor's recommended treatment, but having felt the effect of the pill herself, she could guess what their response would be. These were not people who wanted to be numbed to the difficulties of life in the Ward. When Jillian bid them farewell, she left with much to think about.

"The Ward" is a short story by Roger Thomas, author of The Last Ugly Person: And Other Stories

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