Sometimes you hope for a quiet Sunday and…nope. I suppose that is to be expected. At the hospital, things are changing for people all the time. When I arrived this morning, there were messages of impending demise and patient angst. The operative words have been comfort care and “we just want what’s best for her/him.” Even when those are the sentiments, it can be hard to know exactly what is comforting and what is best.
This summer, I am learning to sit with people through the anxiety, the unknowing, and the pain. Compassion literally means to suffer with – and that is what I am doing much of the time, sitting with patients and their families as they consider hard choices and try to make meaning from what is happening to them and around them. (It is, in fact what the families are doing together for each other – being compassionate.) What we learn in chaplaincy is that we can’t make people’s problems go away, but we can be with them. And sometimes presence is not only enough, it is best.
It is hard when things don’t go as planned. When a father takes a turn for the worse, when a sibling takes her own health for granted, when a neighbor has a terrible accident. You can see it in the eyes sometimes, this feeling that life is changing course but no one has been given the new map yet.
For me, it is a job. I get to go home at the end of the day. (Or in this case, tomorrow morning). But these patients and families are teaching me patience. They are teaching me how to wait and and be present. (Didn’t I recently say I was impatient with my patients? Shame on me!) It is inspiring to see people stop their busy-ness and just BE with each other – a light in the darkness, as it were. They are anxious, they crave information, they want to know what to do. But what they do is wait with their loved one. Being there for one another in the waiting is the one thing no one else can give them.
There is a theme that comes up in a lot of Advent and end of year reflections: darkness. Sure enough, here in the northern hemisphere, the days are shorter and darker now. That makes darkness a great metaphor as we prepare for Christmas – Jesus as a light in the darkness, we who have walked in darkness have seen a great light.
A lot of times darkness is a metaphor for ignorance, evil, sin, or death. It is a state from which we must be saved.
But I have been thinking about darkness another way. You know who lives is darkness? Fetuses in the womb. And you know what they are doing in the darkness? Growing and preparing to enter a light-filled world. (Even after they are born their pediatricians will tell you they grow while they are sleeping!)
Light – actual and metaphorical – is good. But we all grew in darkness, it was the only way we got ready for the world of sun and incandescent and fire light we all live in. This got me wondering if seasons of metaphorical darkness might be times of growth as well. What do you think?
The season of Epiphany is upon us, and I have already seen several essays and photos on the theme of light entering a dark world. But the need for light to break through–the astounding difference it can make in a bleak creation–doesn’t really resonate with me. The slightly darker days of a Texas winter are a relief from the brilliant sunshine we get most of the year. I am not trying to make my friends in colder climates upset. Honest! I used to live there, too, and longed for the sun to stay above the horizon more than 8 hours a day.
But now, I could use a bit more dark. In summer, the light here is so bright it is actually harder to see. It saps my energy and strains my eyes. Everything slows down to conserve energy and plants beg for water, or at least shade. During winter, when the light is not as strong and we are blessed with a few cloudy days, things look much different. Much of the wildlife around here (and my dogs!) are more lively in the cooler weather and the parched ground softens with rain. (Also, we get more visitors this time of year, but so far none have been magi.)
I suppose wherever you live, there are ways that the natural world shows us reminders of the holy. Light, dark, cold, warm, stillness, activity. Holly and cactus. The gray light of January and February reveals more to me than the blinding light of summer. It is a perfect time to celebrate the revelation of Jesus to the world.