In every encounter we either give life or drain it. There is no neutral exchange. We enhance human dignity or we diminish it. The success or failure of a given day is measured by the quality of our interest and compassion toward those around us. ~Brennan Manningfrom Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging
Forty years ago this week I graduated with an M.D. degree from the University of Washington and began a lifetime of trying to be life-giving rather than life-draining to others.
There have been times when I’ve failed miserably, my interest waning and my compassion fatigued.
But like tracing the path of a spiral from inside to outside, I continue to try to reach farther and encompass more with each step I take in the time I have left, remembering the dignity of each person I meet and being worthy of their time and trust.
May this young woman who embarked so enthusiastically on the physician journey so many decades ago never forget, after so much seasoning, what it took to get there and what it means to continue to be worthy.
As a fond mother, when the day is o’er, Leads by the hand her little child to bed, Half willing, half reluctant to be led, And leave his broken playthings on the floor, Still gazing at them through the open door, Nor wholly reassured and comforted By promises of others in their stead, Which, though more splendid, may not please him more; So Nature deals with us, and takes away Our playthings one by one, and by the hand Leads us to rest so gently, that we go Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay, Being too full of sleep to understand How far the unknown transcends the what we know. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow “Nature”
I remember being reluctant to go to bed as a child; I could miss something important that the adults waited to do until after I was asleep, or I wasn’t sure that I wanted to turn myself over to my dreams.
I had a period of time when I was in third grade (during the Cuban missile crisis) when I really was terrified to go to sleep, and ended up reading comic books during the night hours, trying to keep myself distracted from whatever fears I harbored. My mother, frantic for sleep herself during this worrisome time, consulted my pediatrician who prescribed orange juice with a tablespoon of brandy – for me, not for her. She was outraged at the thought, being a teetotaler, so bought no brandy for me (or for herself). I eventually got over my sleep issues, but not my worried heart.
The unknown is always more frightening than the known, and the older I got, the more I learned during 24 years of formal education and training, the more I realized I didn’t know. There would be no end to it. Even though I still spend several hours a week reading for required and non-required continuing medical education, I don’t crack the surface of everything that is news in my profession. There is a whole lot that I need to un-learn because it is now proven that it is no longer valid as it originally was over four decades of medical practice.
During the last three months of COVID-19, it is like drinking from several firehoses at once, as data on this previously unknown virus comes piecemeal from countless sources: the studies are rushed and sample sizes are small, conclusions are tentative, often barely peer-reviewed and sometimes disproven the next week by another study. What was considered “fact” a month ago may no longer be so.
So I know I must settle into the reality that there will always be plenty of unknowns, particularly as I reluctantly let go of life’s playthings one by one.
The unknown will always transcend the known on this side of the veil so I appreciate that I am gently led, in faith, to that long-awaited sleep that was so elusive before.
Still and calm, In purple robes of kings, The low-lying mountains sleep at the edge of the world. The forests cover them like mantles; Day and night Rise and fall over them like the wash of waves. Asleep, they reign. Silent, they say all. Hush me, O slumbering mountains – Send me dreams. ~Harriet Monroe “The Blue Ridge”
I live where the surrounding hills circle like wagons, strong shoulders promising protection, lying steadfast day after day, while the palette of sky changes with the season.
These are friends in whose shadows I sleep; they will be here long after I take my rest, but I will remember, even in my dreams, I will long remember how light emerges hopeful over the crest at the breaking of dawn.
The children have gone to bed. We are so tired we could fold ourselves neatly behind our eyes and sleep mid-word, sleep standing warm among the creatures in the barn, lean together and sleep, forgetting each other completely in the velvet, the forgiveness of that sleep.
Then the one small cry: one strike of the match-head of sound: one child’s voice: and the hundred names of love are lit as we rise and walk down the hall.
One hundred nights we wake like this, wake out of our nowhere to kneel by small beds in darkness. One hundred flowers open in our hands, a name for love written in each one. ~Annie Lighthart “The Hundred Names of Love”
Each of many nights comforting a child resisting sleep, each of many moments rocking them in the dark, lulling them into the trusting soft velvet of dreams~ I feel the budding of blossomed love that our God must feel for each of us, unfurling until there is no inner spiral left, and each petal of me, one by one, opens wide, grateful.
This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:
God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us where we are. ~Tim Keller
Sure on this shining night Of star made shadows round, Kindness must watch for me This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north. All is healed, all is health. High summer holds the earth. Hearts all whole. Sure on this shining night I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone Of shadows on the stars.
Let us represent the cherubim in mystic harmony, mystic harmony, praise the Father, Son and Spirit, raise our three-fold song, raise our three-fold song, praise the Trinity, praise the Trinity, Praise our three-fold song to the Trinity, Let us now cast aside, cast aside, let us cast aside all this earthly life, cast aside, cast aside, cast aside, all this earthly life. Amen. King of all, we may receive God the King, we may receive Him! He who in glory enters in with mighty hosts of angels, with mighty hosts of angels. Alleluia!
A certain kind of Eden holds us thrall. Even the one vine that tendrils out alone in time turns on its own impulse, twisting back down its upward course a strong and then a stronger rope, the greenest saddest strongest kind of hope. ~Kay Ryan from “A Certain Kind of Eden”from Flamingo Watching
This is the season for entwining enchantment.
Simply walking out in the garden in the morning, the tendrils are reaching out and grabbing onto my shirt and my jeans. If I stood still for an hour, they would be wrapping up my legs and clinging to my arms. There I would be, held hostage by these insistent vines for the duration of the season.
There are worse fates: a verdant Garden is exactly where we were placed to begin with.
The vines that don’t find a grab-hold, end up bending back onto themselves, curling back down the ladder they just created, sometimes knotting themselves into a nest. They wind up and down in nothingness and sadly cannot hold fast enough to be fruitful except creeping along the ground itself.
May there always be Someone Solid to cling to, to wrap around, to hold fast. May we once again know the glories of His Garden.
God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which He must work. Only to know this, is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves. Those who are in Christ share with Him all the riches of limitless time and endless years. For those out of Christ, time is a devouring beast; before the sons of the new creation time crouches and purrs and licks their hands. ~A. W. Tozer from The Knowledge of the Holy
When worries overwhelm and fretting becomes fearsome, I need quieting. When the noise of news headlines screams for attention, I call out for quieting. When there is sadness, conflict, tragedy, illness, estrangement, I long for quieting. When too many balls are juggled at once, and I drop one, I desire quieting. When the ache lasts too long, the tiredness lingers, the heart skips a beat, and one too many symptoms causes anxiety, I am desperate for quieting. When tempted and ready for surrender, forgetting confidence, conviction, commitment and faith, I pine for quieting. In order to stay still reflecting restoration and rest, I am called to quieting.
Just remaining quietly in the presence of God, listening to Him, being attentive to Him, requires a lot of courage ~Thomas Merton
Wind finds the northwest gap, fall comes. Today, under gray cloud-scud and over gray Wind-flicker of forest, in perfect formation, wild geese Head for a land of warm water, the boom, the lead pellet.
Some crumple in air, fall. Some stagger, recover control, Then take the last glide for a far glint of water. None Knows what has happened. Now, today, watching How tirelessly V upon V arrows the season’s logic.
Do I know my own story? At least, they know When the hour comes for the great wind-beat. Sky-strider, Star-strider–they rise, and the imperial utterance, Which cries out for distance, quivers in the wheeling sky.
That much they know, and in their nature know The path of pathlessness, with all the joy Of destiny fulfilling its own name. I have known time and distance, but not why I am here.
Path of logic, path of folly, all The same–and I stand, my face lifted now skyward, Hearing the high beat, my arms outstretched in the tingling Process of transformation, and soon tough legs,
With folded feet, trail in the sounding vacuum of passage, And my heart is impacted with a fierce impulse To unwordable utterance– Toward sunset, at a great height. ~Robert Penn Warren from “The Collected Poems”
I wish I could be as sure as the geese and swans flying overhead in unwordable utterance~ they trust where they are led is where they belong.
They may not make it there but nevertheless they go when called.
I wish I might fly into the setting sun on such a path of pathlessness knowing only I am sent because the call is stronger than I am.