The Weight of Tears

cropped-dsc_0196.jpg

My Spiritual Director recently asked me how I was doing. And I started to cry.

Not because I was sad. Or even depressed. It had been a difficult couple of months, personally and professionally, and I felt the weight of others’ tears added to my own. I have never doubted the cumulative effect of loss, but on that particular evening, things were very heavy indeed.

Later in the week, we had an ice storm. I sat mesmerized, watching the freezing rain collect on every bare branch and twig. They looked like those hard-to-cry tears that we all have from time to time. The ice dripped longer and thicker, and then would break off onto the grass below. Eventually, the storm passed, and the temperature rose.

That’s when it hit me – grief, like many other emotions, is framed in seasons. Sometimes it is overwhelming, and you can see the physical frame of a mourner bend over in sorrow. Sometimes the sadness breaks and scatters all around in a fragile mess. Sometimes the sunshine casts a brilliant prism of hope. Grief is expressed differently by each soul who bears it, I think. And it does pass. It truly does.

These same branches that were caked in ice will bud and green up in about 3 months. I hope that, when I see the leaves unfurl, I will remember to go back and take another photo. Because every one of us needs a picture of growth and joy in the back of our minds when the icy heart of grief holds us.

Growth, light, life: all of these are places where the love breaks in. Or perhaps, as Leonard Cohen said in his song, Anthem, 

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

So here’s to tears. And promises of a spring thaw. And the light getting in through the tiniest, smallest cracks of hope you can imagine. And tissues. Lots and lots of tissues.

Here’s What I Know

At the airport

It was a seemingly random phone call as I sat waiting for my flight at the airport…

“Here’s what I know,” I said,
As I watched the criss-cross of people,
Hurrying here and there,
Carrying bags and talking on phones,
Rushing like there’s no tomorrow…

“We don’t know how much time we have,
So make every minute count.
Stay in the moment,
But think about how you act today
Will impact tomorrow.”

“Impact what?”

“Oh…” I said,
“Your loves.
Your goals.
Your standards.
Your heart.”

“But how will I know if I did the right thing?”

I sat for a while,
And rocked back and forth.
The smell of fresh pretzels
And the sound of wheelie bags overwhelmed my senses.

“I think it’s simple things,” I said.
“Whether you built a bridge or burned it
Whether you showed love or indifference,
Whether you showed grace or sat in judgement,
Whether you left people feeling welcomed in,
Or shoved out.”

“Those aren’t simple things.”

“No… they aren’t. But they are everything.”

It was just a random phone call.
But it turned out to be prophetic.

God, help me hear and respond with love to every call…

et lux perpetua…

Today during our Hospice team meeting, we stopped at the 10 o’clock hour to honor the lives lost in Parkland, Florida just two weeks ago. Just two weeks…

I re-lit our memorial candles to read the 17 names. After two or three names, I could not go on. So I passed the paper to a co-worker… and to another… and then we stood in silence. And tears.

At my regular team meeting, I read the names of recent deaths, and we have a moment to honor them. Sometimes I get a lump in my throat and feel a little sad. The stories and lives of our patients affect us deeply. We know we are in a sacred work.

But this… this was so very difficult. So very, very different.

This was random.
This was evil.
This was violent.
This was full of pain.
This was senseless.

Right before I blew out the candles, I said to my teammates, “May their lights continue to shine.”

Indeed.

…et lux perpetua luceat eis…

And let perpetual Light shine upon them.

Amen.

There IS still hope.

I’m pressed but not crushed…  – Paul of Tarsus

Here’s my self-care when I’m sad and stressed:

  • Cooking good food. Comfort food.
  • Curbing my work hours.
  • A nice blush wine (For medicinal purposes. Of course.)
  • Petting a cat.
  • Being with family and close friends.
  • And watching a little Lord of the Rings…

Tolkien has a way of reminding me about the real and not real parts of life, particularly the reality of Good and Evil. We didn’t get to The Two Towers (again/yet/for the gazillionth time) but what came to mind the other night was the scene between Elrond and Arlen when he was pressuring her to leave with the other elves for Valinor…


Elrond:
Why do you linger here when there is no Hope?
Arlen: There is still hope.

 I don’t hold out hope that the Leopard will change his spots and be able to govern well. I don’t expect that lawmakers who seem to “piddle, twiddle and resolve” will get anything done. (Cynical Me believes that they might of course remove health insurance from the working class, legislate who you can love, and attempt yet again to make family planning decisions for all Americans… but I digress…)

But I cling to Hope.

Hope in finding simple ways to express that I AM an ally and proud feminist. That I care about the environment and the serious burden of higher education. That I want to see all children have access to safe water sources and a good education. That racism and prejudice are wrong… and eradicating them begins with me…

I look around and see our daughters who care about their fellow humans. And I know many of their friends who are genuine, thoughtful and caring. They give me hope. 

I watch my coworkers who do everything they can to bring comfort and compassion to someone’s last days on this earth. 

I cling to Hope.

I am still angry. I am still frustrated with white women, “Christian” women in particular, who supported a man who used misogyny, bullying, mockery and profanity to win an election. But then I have to let that anger go and get back to what I must do…

Do justice

Love mercy

Walk humbly

Amen. So be it.

Perspective is Everything

IMG_1916
Somewhere over Indiana… I think.

That momentary darkness
A burst of blinding light
The morning walk around the neighborhood
A hellish commute to work
Perspective is everything

Finding a piece of the puzzle
Learning a new bit of my reality
Asking, for once, the right questions
Trusting God enough to wait
Perspective is everything

Rising above your circumstances
Walking on and getting closer to your goal
Seeing around the bend
God giving you hope to hang on
Perspective is everything

It’s worth it
You’re worth it
Hang on
Hold on
Perspective is everything

When less than perfect is… perfect!

IMG_0629

My travels today took me all over suburbia, from the newest neighborhoods with massive custom homes to the post-World War 2 bungalows. In the outer ‘burbs, there are many places where the agricultural community lives side-by-side with modern amenities. Driving on one back road, I chuckled at the sight of a herd of white-faced Herefords grazing in a field next to a large strip mall and posh tennis club.

And then, I saw this barn.

It was barely standing, with holes in the siding and the roof, and piled debris from the building on one side of the structure. (I actually did some fast and furious U-turns in order to go back and take a second look, and snap this picture.)

Directly across the street sat a “perfect” home with a wrap-around porch, vinyl siding, three-car garage and well-tended landscaping. (Even with the dregs of the recent snowstorm piled along the driveway and front walk, you could tell the hedges were clipped to perfection!)

Shack and Chic. Country and City. Cows and Suburbia. Dilapidated and Perfect.  The journeys they find themselves on are all different, and yet the same.

driving

Working in hospice, I become invested in the lives and needs of my patients. I listen to their stories, their questions, their philosophical reflections. I enjoy photos, listen to music, help write letters, and read Scripture to them. I learn so much. Oh, do I learn!

What you see on the outside can be deceiving. Inside the walls of beautiful homes, there are stories of great joy, worry and regret. Down the hall from a perfectly decorated game room, there is a hospital bed, or a countertop lined with bottles of pills. A camper may sit in the driveway, still covered in snow, the owner only dreaming of a drive to the Florida Keys.

Sometimes the contrast is quite striking. From outward appearances, they want for nothing: gourmet food, 24/7 private duty staff, gracious living with all the amenities. But once the door is closed and there is opportunity to share, there’s a different story. The ache of regrets and missed opportunities colors the few days a family may have.

In another home, you see there are needed repairs. It’s clear that the breadwinner is no longer working. The budget is shot after chemo and surgeries and hospitalizations, and there are grave financial concerns. The bills outlast the income, but laughter and joy color precious moments.

barn croppedOne really can’t tell from the outside what’s really happening on the inside. That family who looks perfect, is not…

And the impossibly dilapidated structure is actually quite beautiful…

And so, my chaplain’s heart stopped to wonder…

Do I see with an open heart and clear eyes what is truly going on behind the scenes? Or am I caught up in appearances and flashy “perfection?”

The bottom line is… we can never truly know what is going on in the human heart. I have learned this, to my embarrassment, when I make an assumption without taking time to really listen and absorb the facts.

Tonight I look around at our warm and inviting home, cats purring the couch beside me and many “creature comforts” at my disposal. Life is not perfect, but it is pretty darn good. May I not take that for granted.

Thanks be to God.