What I Can Give
It’s been awhile since I wrote. To be honest, I haven’t felt much like writing since I got back into the country for a variety of reasons. The main one being I came back to a dear friend who was very sick---dying in fact of a rare, aggressive cancer. She entered hospice about 10 days after I returned and I was one of her caregivers for several weeks. At the end of October, she died very peacefully surrounded by her family.
I’m not going to lie to you, October was a rough month.
I don’t think I can really talk about it fully yet, the pain is too fresh and far too sharp. But, it has given me pause to reflect on what is important in life—in my life.
I have thought often about what I offer to others—especially those on the margins of our society. Those it is easy to look away from or to judge. To those I disagree with. Or those that judge or hurt me. What do I give them in return?
And working in Palestinian refugee camps I often torment myself with thoughts of what can I really offer? What can I really do to help? Does it even matter?
Maybe, the intensity of the month of October clarified a few things for me. It’s not easy caring for someone in hospice. It’s exhausting and I felt completely inadequate. But, the one thing that became clear to me was what I could offer her. I could reflect her dignity back to her.
Maybe, many of you know this. Maybe, many of you have taken care of a loved one. But, I watched her struggle with the loss of freedom, with the pain, and with not being able to do the simplest of things. In some cases, it frustrated her, and it others, it shamed her. What I knew for sure, the most important thing I could do for her while I was with her, was making sure who she was—her value, her dignity was reflected back to her.
I will say, her family was unbelievably loving. She was taken care of so very well and she was sent out in death in so much love and comfort. I still stand in awe of it, of the beauty and pain of it.
"The beauty and preciousness of life is intimately linked with its fragility and mortality. We can experience that every day — when we take a flower in our hands, when we see a butterfly dance in the air, when we caress a little baby. Fragility and giftedness are both there, and our joy is connected with both." — Henri Nouwen, With Burning Hearts
There is something precious about life, isn’t there? And somehow we miss it daily. We miss it in others. One of the hardest things about coming back into America this fall, maybe due to the election, was watching how we talk to our fellow Americans. We dismiss, abuse, ridicule, and demonize those that disagree with us. It’s easy to do. But, in the end, what are we offering; life or death?
My biggest October revelation is all I can offer others is a reflection of their dignity. Really, in the end, that is all charity or kindness is. But, all the material of the world fades. What remains is our common humanity, love, and dignity…or the absence of it. What’s interesting is I can remember when certain people have demoralized me or abused me. I know how that feels. I also can remember when I have treated people badly. It feels about the same level of crappiness.
But, I also remember when people have reflected my dignity back to me, especially when I thought I didn’t deserve it. And when I have been present enough to reflect dignity back to someone, maybe when they felt they didn’t deserve it, actually reinforced my dignity back to me.
Funny how that works.
It might be the simplest sounding thing ever but the hardest to practice. With all the problems and injustice facing Palestinian refugees maybe really all I can do is share our common humanity with them. Maybe, again, all I can offer is my dignity so it can mingle with their dignity.
In the end, I wonder if we all are just here to help each other live well. I also wonder if we all are here just to help each other die well.
How sacred is that?
“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark, than alone in the light.” ~Helen Keller