Come in! Come in!

"If you are a dreamer, come in. If you are a dreamer, a wisher, a liar, a Hope-er, a Pray-er, a Magic Bean buyer; if you're a pretender, come sit by my fire. For we have some flax-golden tales to spin. Come in! Come in!" -- Shel Silverstein

Friday, May 22, 2015

Infinity and Beyond

 NB: This was a meditation I recently gave at the beginning of our IDT (Interdisciplinary Team) Meeting a few weeks ago.

I want to talk a little bit this morning about something I believe.

I believe that what we believe informs what we do.

I want to begin to do that by telling you a story of a patient I admitted long, long ago in another galaxy far, far away. I'll call her "Martha" a 71 year old woman with End Stage COPD. Her husband - I'll call him "Joe" - was, at the time, 81 years old.

When I heard that “Martha” and “Joe” had just celebrated their 51st wedding anniversary, I congratulated them and then asked, “Tell me a love story. Tell me how you met.”

A lovely man with a wonderful sparkle in his eyes, “Joe” looked at his wife and they exchanged a lovely, knowing smile. Suddenly, they were both teenagers.

She looked down at her lap, shyly and he giggled a bit before he said, “You know that cartoon character? What's his name? The guy in the space suit? Oh, yeah, Buzz Lightyear. Remember him? Remember how he always says, 'To infinity and beyond'? Well, he got that from us!”

He laughed and slapped his knee and said, “That's what we said to each other after I asked her to marry me and she said yes."

"'I love you to the moon and back. To infinity and beyond!'”

And then, he looked at his wife, and she looked at him, and for a moment, they had a moment. There was electricity in the air. I heard it softly crackle. So did their two daughters who were sitting by me.

They both smiled broadly as one leaned into me and said, softly, “Ain't they somethin'?”

We had a wonderful visit and, after I said a prayer, “Joe” said he would walk me to the door. It was all of ten feet from the bed but I've learned that there's nothing to be done with a man of that generation than to let him be the gentleman he was brought up to be.

We got out on the porch and “Joe” took hold of my elbow and said, “So, do you believe in 'infinity and beyond'?”

I'm a good Hospice Chaplain. I know Medicare regulations state that I am not to 'proselytize'. Unless pressed, I'm not to state what I believe. Rather, I am to support the patient and family's belief system.

So, I smiled gently and said, “I think 'infinity and beyond' is a wonderful concept that must bring you great comfort and hope.”

I was just mentally patting myself on the back for such a good, innocuous response when he pressed again on my elbow, looked me square in the eye and said, “No, I asked you if YOU believe in 'infinity and beyond.”

I considered myself pressed into an answer.

“If you are asking if I believe in eternal life, my answer would be 'yes'. I do. And, personally, if I didn't, I don't think I could do this work.”

“Joe” sighed deeply and you could see the weight drop from his shoulders. “You know, I've always said I believed that. For 51 years, I've said I believe that. But now . . . you know . . . now that the end (cough). . . now that . ..  the end . . . is near . . . . "

He cleared his throat and wiped the tears from his eyes. "Now . . . I'm not sure. I mean, I need to believe that . . . she needs to believe that . . .  WE need to believe that, if we're going to get through the next few days and weeks, and . . . Oh, God, might it be possible? . . . the next few months."

I held his hands in my hand, looked him square in the eye and said, "I believe anything is possible. And, everything is possible. Things I couldn't even ask for or imagine. My faith teaches me that 'life is changed, not ended'. Science teaches that, too. 'Matter can neither be created nor destroyed.' I learned that in the 6th grade, I think."

Joe looked up at me, his eyes brightened and he said, excitement in his voice, "That's the first law of Thermodynamics! Huh!" he said as he looked away and then looked back at me, his face beaming broadly, "I just never heard it connected to faith."

He giggled a bit and said, "That's quite a sucker punch to atheists."

"Well," I smiled at him, "I can't prove anything, you know? I mean, if I were to make this argument in a court of law, I'd probably lose. Badly. Perry Mason would be shaking his head."

"But, that's not faith!" Joe said. "Faith is not just based on facts. It's what you choose to believe!"

"Yes, of course," I said. "And, I hope you continue to chose to believe in 'infinity and beyond'. Because you're right. It will help you get through this last part of your earthly journey together. Before one of you goes on ahead. Until you meet again."

"Beyond infinity," he said.

"Where love lives," I said.

"To the moon and back," he said.

"Right, because life is changed, not ended."

"And, matter can neither be created nor destroyed."

Now, I told you all that story to say this: You have heard me say that, of the three Hospice agencies I've worked for over the years, you all are the best Hospice professionals I've ever had the privilege to work with. You are all smart and dedicated and compassionate. I'm so proud to say I work with you. And, you know me well enough by now to know that I don't blow smoke."

"So, here's what I've come to know. Here's what you all have taught me:

I have come to know that you can not do this work of Hospice - this labor of love - without a belief system."

"Most of you are Christians, but there is a great variety of expressions of that belief in Christianity, right in this room. That includes those of you who were baptized but are really not yet sure what to make of that, how to live into or  out of what that means for you."

"Some of you are Buddhist. Others are secular humanists. Still others may be atheists."

"Some of you are combinations of all of that variety of belief."

"Others may belief only one thing: That this life is good. That there is nothing after this life. And, because of that, you fight like hell for the living. You honor that belief by making damn sure that every minute of your patients' lives are without pain or distress."

My point is not what you believe. My point is that you believe.

And, what you believe informs how you behave. More importantly, your belief informs how you do your job. How you behave as a Hospice professional, in whatever capacity.

Otherwise, without that belief system, I believe you could not do this job. At least, not to the standard of excellence with which I see you carry it out, day in and day out.

So, whatever you believe, be clear about it.

Embrace it.

Know that your belief will carry you over the difficult days, the challenging days, the days when you're out in the middle of Nowhere, Sussex County, Delaware, and you're scratching your head and saying to yourself,

"And, just why is it that I'm doing this work? Aren't there at least five other things I could be doing? And earning way more money doing it?"

Just remind yourself of what you believe, what you treasure, what you hold dear.

And, if you like, you can sum that all up by picking up your chin, holding your arm straight out, opening your mouth and saying,

"To infinity and beyond!"


Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for posting this blog "Infinity and Beyond". I am sitting here with my sister who is coming to the end of her earthly journey. It was good to read what I hold in faith that the journey continues on and that we do not walk alone. I am reminded of Henry Vandykes poem where those on the shore see the ship leaving sailing onto the horizon and say there she goes and that at that moment there are others looking at an empty horizon and take up the call here she comes.

Br. John Brendan, AF

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

May you both know God's presence at this most holy time.

Peter said...

Thank you Elizabeth. I'm forwarding this to two friends wise mothers are dying.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Peter - I hope it helps.