In Social Work school, we talk alot about boundaries. It's a very difficult thing to figure out. Social work (for me anyway) is like 1 part psychology, 1 part systems knowledge, 4 parts activism, and like 57 parts empathic heart. And each work setting comes with a different set of standards, and thus a different set of rules. I'm very strident about my boundaries, because I feel that it is the only way to do the work that I do. But every now and then, there is someone who steps through.
I've decided that work boundaries are kind of like a dotted line. Chunks of solid space with gaps in between (kind of like a border fence, or the ozone layer). It goes along for quite some time, impervious and stoic. But then all of a sudden there is a huge unfortified space. For me this comes in the form of very young people newly diagnosed with HIV; in patients who remind me of people I love; in people who I feel have been left behind too many times; in people who are essentially being told that in the eyes of people who matter, they do not exist. I find myself worrying all the time about where they might be, or how it is that we are going to overcome these obstacles, or how it is that I am going to keep them from slipping away again. I battle in my head with how far I am willing to go before I put up a wall and say "I'm sorry. This is as far as my vocation allows me to go. Bless you on your journey." And then I battle in my head to not feel guilty for stopping short. These are the times when I am thankful that I have a roommate. Otherwise, I might have bunkbeds full of homeless people sleeping in my living room. And Marcus just would not like that.