Wisdom


This is the 19th question in Matador’s list of 20 Questions For Every Spiritual Seeker:  what is wisdom, and how do we gain it?

This is a tough one…I’m not sure there is a single answer to this question. As I’ve gone through my going on five decades of life, I have learned a few nuggets of wisdom which have given me peace. I do not, however, feel as though I have found wisdom. Here are a few of the most impactful lessons I’ve found for my life:

  • My self-worth is based on what I’ve done for others, not on what I’ve accomplished.
  • Laughing until I cry is healing, and I try to do it at least once a month.
  • I reflect whatever I surround myself with, good or bad.
  • The belly laugh of a child is the best sound in the world.
  • People are, literally, all that really matters.
  • God exists and loves us.

What wisdom have you found?

“The only wisdom is in knowing you know nothing.”  –Socrates


Goodbyes


I said goodbye to a dear friend this month. I hate goodbyes, I really do. It’s not as if my friend is dropping off the face of the Earth, but it will be different now. This is the only part of friendship I don’t like.

This was my first Arkansas friend when we moved here, going back to day two of my new job. You know how you click immediately with some people? This was that. We’ve shared a lot in three years. This friend has seen more of my tears than anyone outside of my family; I’m beyond grateful for his friendship and support. I’m happy for his new opportunity and life, but I sure will miss him. Recent news at work has us realizing more goodbyes are likely coming.

This week was the one year anniversary of closure for the family of a friend and his son, lost in a tragic hiking accident. The overwhelming online support on this anniversary was a fresh reminder of the loss their family feels every day. I remain in awe at the small band of heroes who regularly risked their own safety for three months to bring two strangers home to rest.

I wrapped up this week at a funeral, where a young friend and her toddler daughter unexpectedly said goodbye to her young husband. That’s the worst kind of goodbye. The only thing that keeps senseless losses like these from driving me literally crazy is the profound hope that, while lifelong, these goodbyes are not permanent. We will all meet again.

All of this has made for a reflectful week, for what I’m thankful for and what really matters. I’ve put a card in the mail to a friend dealing with loss who I’ve been thinking about. I’m hugging my family more and being less cranky with them. And I’m going to go visit my parents today, just because…because there are goodbyes.

“Why can’t we get all the people together in the world that we really like and then just stay together? I guess that wouldn’t work. Someone would leave. Someone always leaves. Then we would have to say goodbye. I hate goodbyes. I know what I need. I need more hellos.”  –Charles Schulz

“Goodbyes make you think. They make you realize what you’ve had, what you’ve lost, and what you’ve taken for granted.”  –Ritu Ghatourey


Invisible Subculture


A friend used this term to describe those who are living in hospitals with their loved ones. Not short stays of days or even weeks, but months with no idea of when it will be over. We got introduced to this quiet society last year during Megan’s illness. I don’t wish it on anyone.

Your world shrinks to not much more than one room. Your outings are trips to another floor for tests or the occasional brief field trip outside for supplies. You learn you can sleep in a fish bowl, and eat and shower communally. The world all but stops. You acutely mourn your life before and all of its normal pleasures, like sleeping in your own bed and eating dinner all together as a family. You feel guilty for your jealousy of the hospital staff who get to leave every day to go home to their normal lives, even as you are beyond grateful for everything they do for you and your loved one. You become hyper-aware of just who from the outside remembers that you exist and who does not, who is sensitive to your ordeal versus those few jerks who act like this must be some exaggerated ploy for attention. You deeply learn what really matters, when all that matters is what’s happening to a single human being now at the center of the universe.

The crappy reality is that this is happening right now. Right now, as we go about our normal routines, spouses are holding the hand of the love of their lives at their bedsides. A few miles away, parents are suspended in a 10×10 sterile universe, desperately  hoping against hope for a miracle for their child. Every day it’s happening, thousands of times, right here in our home towns. It’s a by-product of the human condition and modern medicine. But there is something we can do.

Chances are we will all eventually know someone living invisibly. We can let them know that they’re not invisible, that we remember them and what they’re going through. We can text…regularly. We can send a card and a small stash of snacks. We can visit. You don’t have to stay long, and don’t worry about not knowing what to say. Just say “I don’t know what to say.” Offer specific help versus asking what you can do. It’s easier to accept a specific offer than to ask for help. And if you’re so moved, you can donate time or money to an organization which helps very sick kids and their families; there are plenty of them. My friend Angela from church has started her own non-profit, Gifts from Heaven, to bring a moment of joy to kids with serious illness. If short on time, we can send someone like Angela $10 or $25 a month, and let them do the work for us. And especially, we can pray. Pray for those living in fear, their lives disrupted and on hold. And pray that we don’t ever have to learn what it’s like to live invisibly.

“Sometimes the heart sees what is invisible to the eye.”  –H. Jackson Brown, Jr.


America


I’m especially proud to be an American this week. I’ve always been proud to be part of Reagan’s “shining city on a hill”, even when we haven’t always lived up to our ideals. This week we did.

Our Founding Fathers constructed our Constitution explicitly to protect the rights of the minority from the will of the majority. The unelected nature of our Supreme Court justices, now receiving much attention in the blogosphere, is one of the most tangible signs of this intent. The Founders wanted the justices beholden only to their conscience, not to an election cycle, popular sentiment, or special interests. Our two chambers of Congress, one responsive to the majority, through a need to run for re-election every two years, with the other able to act in longer-term interests, is another part of this design. This protection of minority rights is a crucial component of our national DNA, and, I would argue, is the single most distinguishing characteristic of our city on the hill.

The Founding Fathers understood well the power of the majority to oppress the rights of the minority, so clearly and repeatedly demonstrated in history. They wanted America to be different, to be special. It has been, and it is. Yesterday we demonstrated that yet again to the world, standing up for equality and for the dignity of every human being created in the image of God. Jesus stood for the rights of all, whether or not society agreed with Him; He also modelled overwhelming love. Yesterday, the Supreme Court handed down a decision which supports both love and human rights. Love…and America…won.

“I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life…And how stands the city on this winter night?…After 200 years, two centuries, she still stands strong, and true to the granite ridge, and her glow has held no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.”  –Ronald Reagan, January 11, 1989 farewell address


MMA


I visited Argentina once. I liked it. The countryside was pretty, the architecture in BA was cool, and the food was great. But the most memorable part of the trip happened before I stepped foot in the country.

As a frequent flier, I boarded the plane early to find room for my bag. I had an aisle seat on the inside section, which had four seats. My traveling companion was a dear friend, and she happened to have the other inside aisle seat in the same row. We sat chatting over the two empty seats between us as the plane filled. As people stopped boarding and our departure time drew near, the two seats between us were still empty, as was the entire group of four directly in front of us. We began to hope that we could stretch out and chat during the long flight. We were wrong.

Just before the plane’s doors closed, the last six passengers boarded as a group. They were memorable. These were six big guys, with shaved heads, muscle tees, and more than a few tattoos. My heart sank as they took their seats between and in front of us.

They weren’t as loud and rowdy as I feared, though it was clear that flying was a novelty to them. I kept to my personal space in my aisle seat as much as one can when the guy next to you (and next to him) is a seat-and-a-half wide. We both tried to sleep, me as much to shut it all out as being truly tired. Finally, about an hour from landing, it got interesting. As breakfast was served, rousing the cabin, my seat mate woke and…changed his shirt! Right there in his seat. As I sat there horrified, fully aware of what was happening, he pulled a shirt out of I’m not sure where, took off the one he was wearing, and put the new one on. I’ve never so desperately tried not to look somewhere as right then and there. But it only got better. He then pulled out a bag of peanuts, again from I’m not sure where, ate half of them, and then offered me the rest. “No, thank you”, I mumbled. I’m good. Really.

At the same time I was earnestly trying to be as distant and alone as I could possibly be in a modern airline cattle car, my friend was chatting up her seat mate. They were headed on to Uruguay. No, he’d never been there. Boy was this a long flight. When she and I finally reconnected in the airport and watched as the burly group went on toward customs, my friend couldn’t wait to have a good laugh at my expense. It is funny now. But who were they, and what in the world were they going to do in Uruguay? For all of her friendliness, my friend didn’t have the guts to ask. I’ve never forgiven her, nor myself, for not asking. Her theory is that they were MMA fighters. I wondered if they were construction workers for some specialized industry. We’ll never know. Which means we can each write our own ending to the story, which, I admit, I like best.

“The best things in life are unexpected – because there were no expectations.”  –Eli Khamarov


Diagnosis

stethoscope

Most people remember where they were when they heard about JFK’s assassination or the Challenger explosion or 9/11. But for us parents whose children were diagnosed with HLH, we’ll never forget the date of diagnosis for our children. The diagnosis was so life-altering that it’s seared in our consciousness, forming the beginning of our shared experience.

A parent on the HLH Facebook support page confirmed this recently when she asked if anyone else remembered their diagnosis date; post after post of date provided her answer. I’ve written about our diagnosis day before, along with all of the important dates leading up to and following it. We’ve already begun anniversarying them, causing me repeated pause as I think about what our lives were like one year ago. At this point last year, we knew Megan was sick, but still didn’t know the upheaval that was coming. That same Facebook page also reminds me how profoundly blessed we are for her remission, as other parents celebrate anniversaries of very different outcomes. I offer them my sincere condolences and then feel terribly guilty, knowing that there is no way we can ever understand why our stories ended so differently.

These sobering reminders leave me feeling both blessed and sad…blessed for our happy ending, sad for others not as fortunate. Guilt won’t accomplish anything, I tell myself. These are the kinds of inequities which pose the big fundamental ‘why’ questions. All I can do is say a prayer for those who have lost and a prayer of thanks for our family. And keep going, determined to never forget how grateful and blessed we are.

“In three words I can sum up everything that I’ve learned about life:  it goes on.”  –Robert Frost


Helicopter


There’s an old joke about a man on his roof in a flood, who prays for God to save him. Soon, some people come by in a boat and offer him a seat, but he refuses, saying God will save him. A little later, rescue workers in a hydroplane attempt to pick him up. Again he refuses, firm in his belief that God will save him, even as the waters rise. Finally a rescue helicopter arrives, again turned away, though the water is now nearly over his roof. A short time later, the man drowns. When he gets to heaven, he exasperatedly says to God, “I prayed to You, and I had faith that You would save me.  Why didn’t You?” God simply responded, “Well, I sent you a boat, a hydroplane, and a helicopter…”

I got a visit this week from a helicopter.

A friend sent me a note which…somehow, from hundreds of miles away…hit the bullseye on a struggle I’m having. Her aim was so dead on that it took my breath away. How did she know, from such a distance, what I was going through and just what I needed to hear? Wondrously, that note was followed the very next day by a note from another distant friend on the same subject. The first note was uncanny; two must be a sign.

It remains to be seen if I can muster the courage to allow these caring nudges to be enough to take the step forward that I’ve known that I need to for awhile. We spend much of our lives wishing for signs to tell us what we should be doing. On the rare occasions that I’m blessed enough to get them, I’d be crazy not to listen. Yet the status quo is a powerful thing. I once read that we only make a change when we’re uncomfortable, whether that’s shifting in our seat or changing our lives. But I got a visit from a helicopter…I’d better hop aboard.

“Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when He did not want to sign.”  –Anatole France


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