Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A Temple and a Wailing Wall

Google image search My ten week old can smile and that’s about it. She can’t walk, or dance or sing. She has yet to eat solid food or mow the lawn. She hasn’t worked a day in her life so of course, no pay checks. She can only smile, but what’s a smile anyway? When you consider the universe, the vast empty space of it all, punctuated only here and there by the light of stars, a few mounds of matter, when you think about how even in those small pockets of something instead of nothing, even there life has only been seen on this planet, and most of that life is unmoving and unthinking outside of pure instinct; a smile may be more than it would first appear. When you consider it in the grand scheme of it all, a smile, a sign of happiness, an outward representation of an inward state given for its own sake, is truly a rare and remarkable thing. While compared to an active adult, my child’s abilities in the world are greatly limited. When held up next to all else that exists, her simple smile becomes nothing short of astounding. Our patients also are often limited. What abilities they had, what powers were at their disposal, ripped away by illness and time. Who they were: diminished, what they could do: stolen, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have value, that doesn’t mean they aren’t remarkable. From the mumbled prayer of the comatose to the song of the demented, even taking that last breath, that last filling of the lungs with the spirit is an act of such rare beauty as to be almost unheard of in this universe. May we honor all life for what it is: the home for the divine, and pay homage to every death as a Wailing Wall, the remnant, the echo of where the Holy had dwelt within the profane.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Between the Dark and the Flame

On the weekends, if it is nice outside, I like to have a fire after dark. No great shakes, just a few sticks, a couple logs wreathed in flames in my tiny fire pit. It usually doesn’t take long to get the fire going, and once the wood is caught and burning on its own, I’ll plop down in my lawn chair, kick my feet up on an over turned 5 gallon bucket like the class act I am, grab a cold beverage and take a sip. It never fails that before I can take a second pull, the flames have begun to die out, the fire grown too hot, the wind turned kicking a column of smoke in my eyes, or the logs need to be shifted else those ever fragile flames may burn out.
                The entire night will go this way. I’ll get the fire just how I like it, have enough time to sit back and enjoy the warmth for a moment before something changes and I need to move again. A constant recalibration, a dancing with the chaotic flames, all of which done just to maintain that sweet spot, that elusive place of the burning flames and the cold night meeting to produce comfort and warmth.
                google image search Sometimes I think that is what we do: we help people find the sweet spot around the death bed. The place where a family member can show their care and love for the dying, but with enough help and support that they don’t get burnt by the pain. We help the dying find where they can be with the ones they love, the place they can occupy at the end of life so that they don’t get left out in the cold. It is a moving target, ebbing and flowing with the fluidity of love and memory. The art of our craft is to help find that spot between the dark and the flame, where families and patients can live and move and love and die in the warmth and comfort of each other’s care.