Recently I had the pleasure of attending an elegant soiree at the Seattle Asian Art Museum as a guest of Heather McHugh. McHugh, in case you are unfamiliar with her, is a poet and MacArthur fellow, as well as recipient of a Stranger Genius award. Part of McHugh’s genius manifests as generosity. This evening’s offering of intensely beautiful culture came in the service of Caregifted, her charitable organization devoted to offering relief and deep respite to the exhausted and over-extended caregivers among us.
Many of us know someone, (or we may ourselves be) in the position of giving care to a permanently disabled person. Often this job is a 24 hour commitment and unpaid, as the person is a loved one, relative, child or spouse of the caregiver. The job is life-long, and it can be unrelenting. Each year Caregifted gives some of these people a week of time and inspiration and rest in a beautiful location. The program is a pilot at this time and it is McHugh’s hope that the idea will spread and that other organizations will form to do the same thing.
Among all the thousands of charitable organizations in the world, this cause could seem small–until you consider just what the unpaid life-long volunteer contributes to the greater social fabric by doing this. Imagine, for a moment, all of the disabled, in whatever capacity, mental or physical, suddenly without a caretaker, how we would function as a society. Most of us do not have the skills, much less the compassion, to care for people we do not know with autism, or alzheimers, or wheelchair bound– and those who step in and step up provide a sometimes invisible, powerful and indispensable thread in the fabric of our society. Caregifted’s week of time says, “We see you. Thank you! And may you restore your spirit.”
Only a poet with an unusual mind would conceive this project, and then present an evening of such enchantment in its service. Robert Hass took the stage to read both his own work and poems about art and music. I have searched in vain online for his conversation with Modigliani–startling, eloquent, and please somebody tell me when it is published! Following him, Jonathan Biss played the Steinway and convinced me I may never have heard the piano played before. I sat ten feet from the stage, and my tendency towards cultural narcolepsy did not have a chance. I quite literally felt chills up and down my spine.
Photographs © Iskra Johnson (i-phone)
A documentary film (“Undersung”) about Caregifted is in the works, portions of which we viewed at the end of the evening. If you would like to know more (and see film clips) please visit the Caregifted site or donate through Children’s Hospital Foundation.