Not all those who wander are lost — J.R.R. Tolkien
I recently celebrated (read: found out about on Facebook) my one year anniversary in Vancouver. It was a normal day, and every day since then has also been normal. Keep in mind, my version of normal includes dealing not only with my own grief and emotions but also with those of my patients, their families, and my hospital colleagues. My life is fairly routine. When the attendant at the seafood counter of my local grocery store knows me by both name and order, it says something. Honestly, I tend to be quite content having the same meal nearly every night of the week, listening to the same Spotify playlist, rereading the same books, driving the same route to work, or watching the same shows on Netflix/Hulu/HBO.
These are all relatively mundane things, right? A cup of coffee and a recognizable Broadway song on the way to work. A salmon burger, cottage cheese with pears, and some dark chocolate for lunch. Forty-five minutes on the elliptical while listening to the next episode of a podcast series. Baked chicken breast and veggies for dinner while watching an episode of Buffy after feeding the fish and the cat (preferably not feeding the fish to the cat). It's a simple life. Then again, maybe not...
Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul? ― John Keats
Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape. ― Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
In the midst of all these normal details, beneath the routine and the regularity of it all, there has been a subtle growth, a developing awareness of sorts. I'm not talking about anything remarkable, at least not in the sense of lifting a car to save a loved one trapped underneath. Instead, I mean the stabilizing movement of lifting a 15-pound dumb bell repetitively to build a bicep or a tricep. Not rapidly, but slow and steady. Not with any drama or major exertion, but with smooth breath and gentle movement.
At the beginning of the month, I made what has become an annual trek to Reno to visit my close friend, Josh. Halfway through, I came down with strep throat — the kind that feels like razor blades in your mouth, that comes with a 107° fever. In the urgent care exam room, upon learning that I could fry an egg on my scalp, I nearly started sobbing. Not long after, I became violently sick to my stomach, dry heaving into the sink. You'd think that would be of primary concern to me, but you'd be wrong.
Instead, my mind was focused on the reality of a gentle hand on my back, of another warm body in the room caring for me, cracking jokes about putting me in an ice bath while smiling in a way that should have registered as sincere kindness. For whatever reason, it was difficult to accept Josh's care that night. I was disappointed at having my vacation time spoiled by something completely out of my control. I was fighting the internal voice that told me I was being a burden. In reality, I was being a human who happened to get sick and have need of some compassion. Given my work as a chaplain, you would think this would be clearly recognizable...
The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely. ― C.G. Jung
Since coming back, I've been mostly unable to get back into my exercise routine because of the antibiotics I'd been taking. My gut floor had been ravaged, and my energy levels were insanely weak. This meant having my routine thrown off, and for better or worse, it meant more time alone with my thoughts. Thus we arrive at my point for today: there is no there.
This is a phrase I used to hear from Amy all the time in residency. Perfection is unattainable. Holiness is not something we acquire in this life. Self-actualization isn't going to happen by 32 (some might argue that Jesus had it at 33, but that's neither here nor there). We are all growing at different purposes towards different ends. Our struggles, while similarly universal, are still deeply personal and individual. Our needs for compassion, as well as for accountability, differ one from another. Our checking accounts have varying balances (both in the positive and the negative), and clearly, some of us have the gift of being follically challenged.
The only journey is the one within. ― Rainer Maria Rilke
Think about the goals you're working on right now. Maybe you're anxious about money, about saving for retirement or getting out from under the crippling burden of credit card debt. Maybe you're trying to make your body look different. Maybe you're in school, working on growing your brain and your skills. Or maybe you're like me, and it's hard to articulate exactly what it is you're trying to accomplish. Maybe you're working through grief or depression, anxiety or issues of self-worth and self-esteem. Know this: you most certainly are not alone, and there is no clear cut, well-demarcated end to the journey. Keep breathing, keep moving, and remember to show yourself and those around you some extra grace for the journey.
Much love, M.
photo credit: Stephen Pougas (via Flickr)