The Spirit blows where She wills. I will hope and pray and keep listening.
You don’t have to donate. I just want to talk.
In my work as a chaplain, I have come into contact with many families and patients who are struggling to respond to a suicide or an attempted suicide. It is among the hardest work that I do.
With the recent high profile case of Robin Williams, more people in the general public are understanding that there are complex reasons why someone dies by suicide. Even more important, folks are realizing that, sometimes, there can be no discernible reason at all!
It doesn’t really matter WHY. It matters that another life has been lost.
I want to remember some of their faces and many of their stories…
- I remember a young woman who attempted suicide. She had not gotten her visa extended and was going to have to go back to an abusive situation. I sat and held her hand as she cried, ligature marks on her neck, family weeping around the bed.
- I remember a man who lost his job and was mocked by his family. He was, sadly, successful.
- I remember a family who chose to ignore the pleas for help from one of their children. She found help, but only after months of struggle.
- I remember a young woman who broke under the self-imposed pressure of her studies. She felt like she was a big disappointment to her family and her teachers. She got help and is now a successful business woman.
All of these stories, these journeys, shaped my desire to walk beside those who need support. It’s why I’m walking in the Out of the Darkness Walk this Saturday. I’m also walking in memory of some recent suicide deaths in my own community. Ones that have shaken parents and students and teachers. While there is a “copy-cat” concern about talking about recent deaths, there is also a need for education and publicizing resources.
There is help available! And you are worth it!
In case you need to know, the American Society for Suicide Prevention has an excellent rating with Charity Navigator. This is an organization that understands and cares, and makes every dollar count.
I am joining a team of my co-workers at JSSA on the walk this Saturday, September 13th. You can donate to me (I’d love to make my goal of $200!) or you can just give to our team for our overall goal of $3500. The link for my donors is here…
A couple of my more cynical friends have written comments such as these:
“This bickering is pointless.”
“Why do we re-hash the same arguments?”
“I heard these same arguments four years ago. Has nothing changed?”
As we near the end of another presidential election cycle (Thank you, GOD! It is almost over!) I confess to feeling the same way. There is still legislative gridlock. There are people with enormous amounts of money who are buying the airwaves with jacked up claims about the other candidate or the ballot initiative. There are phone calls ad nauseum, filling our voicemail. It used to just be calls every evening from “Rachel from card services” with a fake “lower your credit card interest rate” offer. Now it’s this PAC or that.
Add to the drama are the ads asking “Are you better off than you were four years ago?” (As if the political system would be the reason? How about my own hard work and motivation? The support of my family and my church?)
Somehow, I think we are asking the wrong questions. Or we aren’t looking at common sense answers.
I was reminded of these words from Ecclesiastes 1:
1 The words of the Teacher of the Assembly, David’s son, king in Jerusalem:
2 Perfectly pointless, says the Teacher, perfectly pointless.
Everything is pointless.
3 What do people gain from all the hard work
that they work so hard at under the sun?
4 A generation goes, and a generation comes,
but the earth remains as it always has.
5 The sun rises, the sun sets;
it returns panting to the place where it dawns.
6 The wind blows to the south,
goes around to the north;
around and around blows the wind;
the wind returns to its rounds again.
7 All streams flow to the sea,
but the sea is never full;
to the place where the rivers flow,
there they continue to flow.
8 All words are tiring;
no one is able to speak.
The eye isn’t satisfied with seeing,
neither is the ear filled up by hearing.
9 Whatever has happened—that’s what will happen again;
whatever has occurred—that’s what will occur again.
There’s nothing new under the sun. 10 People may say about something: “Look at this! It’s new!” But it was already around for ages before us. 11 There’s no remembrance of things in the past, nor of things to come in the future. Neither will there be any remembrance among those who come along in the future.
Sometimes these words are read as being cynical and angry, of a person who has given up on God. I see them quite differently.
If we wrap our lives around our sinful, disjointed selves, then yes – life does become “pointless.”
However, if we choose to live past our circumstances, to see the God who brings the sun to rise and set, the winds to rise and fall, the seasons to come and go, then there is hope. There is courage. There is a reason to press on and shine hope, peace and joy in the world.
When I re-read Eccleasiastes over the weekend, it reminded me that I can easily choose the hipster path of cynicism and frustration. Or I can choose to pour life and light into those around me.
This weekend we went to see The Johnnie in a local regatta. I enjoyed time with my husband and daughters. I saw the Creator’s hand in the leaves, the water, the trees, the sunset. I was refreshed and renewed. A day away from media and the hype was a good thing!
Do I still get frustrated with the partisan hacks growling accusations at each other? Most certainly. Do I have a few choice words that I mutter under my breath at a trumped up political ad? Yeah. I’m human.
However, I remember the God of hope. The God of redemption. The God of peace. And I will choose to pitch my tent there.
P.S. A few pictures from our day at the Head of the Occoquan regatta yesterday:
I have started several posts and then decided to delete them. I’m in a somewhat precarious
position as far as blogging is concerned right now. My work as a chaplain, which I love, has many constraints on my public conversations and reflections. If it weren’t the privacy rules (which, trust me, are rabid and robust and could get me fired), it’s the ethical issue of telling someone else’s story.
And for various reasons, I’m not up to divulging more of a personal nature. At least, not at the moment.
So though I have vignettes which have taught me grace by the truckload, I can’t write about them. Trust me, they would make you cry. Or laugh. Or thank your lucky stars that you and yours are healthy and at peace with one another.
For every post you read, I have four or five in my “draft” folder. They may never see the light of day. But they are most definitely known to The Holy One, who is able to hold them for me.
Death to a terrorist but not death to an ideologue. Death to a leader but not to the followers. Even in the subdued but gleeful comments I read on Facebook and in our paper, there was the griping reality that human lives all end some day, at least on this planet. But for me, the inescapable reality is that Evil lives on, even if one life ends.
Death is hard to write about without one’s own life experiences getting in the way. As a chaplain, I’ve attended countless deaths of strangers, standing beside a grieving family. Sometimes I don’t know the patient’s life story; sometimes I do. But in every case, even the gruffest, angriest family member has moments of vulnerability and tenderness and pain.
The reality hits. Death comes to all of us. One day.
As a Christian, I can see the end of Evil. Its days are numbered (not by me… I really don’t buy into the 5/21/2011 stuff!) My faith affirms that death’s final defeat is wrapped in the Easter victory. The liturgical season of Easter (the 50 days following Easter until Pentecost) holds a sense of completion, yet longing. Of victory over death that is ultimately delayed. Of “the now and not yet” filling one’s mind and hopes, much like the sense of anticipation in Advent. Some of my contemporaries reject the church liturgical calendar, saying it is not “relevant” to people’s needs and wants, and that the Church should move to cyclical preaching about human needs. (I’ve even heard a lead pastor say in defense of jettisoning the liturgical calendar that there are “only” five topics people want to hear about: sex, money, relationships, suffering, and hope. Ironically, the liturgical seasons cover all of these… but I digress!)
The Star Wars mythology created the Death Star as the ultimate, indomitable super-weapon. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for a few decades, you know that The Evil Empire loses, and in the end “Good” wins. It isn’t who has the biggest weapons or power structure that’s always on the winning team. That should be a sobering thought.
For those who suffered the devastation following 9/11, I suppose there is a sense of relief. But their family circles are not restored with the missing relatives, and their loss and grief is no less palpable. I don’t hear anyone saying, “Well, now that bin Laden is dead, we can get on with our lives.”
It’s as though a whole society has taken a deep breath and said, “OK. Let’s go clean up a tornado. Or a tsunami.”
My heart is heavy for all those who have served and died because of terrorism. But my heart is also grieving for those who are blinded by the need for power and domination instead of choosing the path of peace and peace-making. Balancing the reality of grief and relief is that curious work of chaplaincy — living in the tension of reality and hope. And I submit that it’s the work of anyone who wants to live out the teachings of Christ.
I’ll pitch my tent there.
Part of my chaplaincy training involves reflecting and processing the events of the day. I use several methods to help me re-order my thoughts and re-focus. This poem came from an experience of what we call “the ministry of presence.” Just being there – as God’s person. Imperfectly reflecting God’s compassion and love, but there nonetheless.
Hold my hand as I cry
I couldn’t find the words to say
As the doctor explained that things were grim.
“I’m so sorry,” he said, as he quietly made his way out.
The family sat there, numbly, stunned,
Searching each other’s faces, groping for the right words.
I was a by-stander, supporting, listening,
Waiting near-by without hovering too close.
The wife looked up, saw me and said,
“Hold my hand as I cry…”
We walked to a smaller waiting room.
We sat in silence, she and I.
I did not break the poignant pause, but waited.
Tissues clenched in her other hand,
She stared across the room, tears flowing.
There are no words that could be said,
No Scripture verse, no platitudes that comfort.
So we sat. She cried.
And I held her hand…
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the Kings and Princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks,
The work of Christmas begins.
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry
To release the prisoner,
To teach the nations,
To bring Christ to all,
To make music in the heart.