The contrasts in the two visits were obvious. The common themes, though, of struggle, hope, meaning and acceptance, also were clear to me as I drove home from an unexpectedly long day. There are times in this profession when I think somebody must be trying to tell me something.
We usually think of life as being a straight-line progression from birth to youth, from young adulthood to middle age, from old age to death. We imagine that each of the several stages has its own challenges, and that each is distinct from the next. It doesn't really work that way.
The woman I saw in hospice today is coping with pain. She is experiencing fear, but she also has enough presence to deal with it with nobility and acceptance. She is genuinely grateful for the love that surrounds her as her family has come to her side.
We human beings are all locked in the same predicament. Our lives do not move in straight lines. They move in circles of hurt and healing, despair and hope, fear and courage. The same themes recur throughout life.
Through it all, we develop an understanding of how to cope with this twirling, cycling life. We see that life is not always easy. We sense that the difficulties can be overcome when met with a combination of defiance and acceptance. We discover that we all need the same things — loving people to listen to us and care for us, a framework to understand what our life means to us, and a hopeful sense that our lives amount to more than the temporary oddity of limbs that can move. We need purpose, meaning, and love.
This is the great lesson I see in Judaism's approach to life. Our tradition is painfully honest about life's sorrows. There is no denial in Judaism of how unfair life can be, of the magnitude of evil, or of the pain of grief. In spite of these truths, Judaism insists that we can know true and deep joy. It is not the forgetful joy of pretending that life is always wonderful. Rather, it is the joy of overcoming hardships, the joy of loving through pain, the joy of understanding despite the abyss of our ignorance, and the joy of the courage to hope.
Today, I saw all of that in two women's faces — one old and one young.
It's almost as if someone is trying to tell me something. On a day when I would have been perfectly happy to stay home, pay the bills, pet the dog, and watch the ballgame, I got called away to do something else. It is the terrible and wonderful habit of this profession to pull me out of the ordinary and into awareness of what we human beings all have in common.
God, I am so grateful for this job. Thank You, again, for the reminder.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Meaning and Joy