Two weeks (four shifts) into my part-time internship at the hospice. One verbatim written. And so far, it’s feeling like something I can make it through. More than make it through, even.
I think this will be a good experience for me, in many ways. Something about being in these rooms where death is near forces you to just be. No walls, no masks- there just isn’t room for them. And Lord knows, if there is anything that the church needs more of, it’s leaders who can be authentically, comfortably themselves.
On Saturday, I spent some time with three people who were actively dying. Looking into the eyes of these men and women, some of whom can no longer speak or move on their own is like looking into the eyes of an infant or small child. What is happening inside them, in their hearts and minds is a mystery. I thought I would feel pity or fear. What I have felt is compassion. And even more deeply, I have felt a connection that – as cheesy as it sounds – it nothing short of cosmic.
I can’t help but think back to this little snippet of conversation from Thornton Wilder’s play Our Town.
REBECCA: I never told you about that letter Jane Crofut got from her minister when she was sick. He wrote Jane a letter and on the envelope the address was like this: It said: Jane Crofut; The Crofut Farm; Grover’s Corners; Sutton County; New Hampshire; United States of America.
GEORGE: What’s funny about that?
REBECCA: But listen, it’s not finished: the United States of America; Continent of North America; Western Hemisphere; the Earth; the Solar System; the Universe; the Mind of God- that’s what it said on the envelope.
The play was written in 1938. It depicts with great nuance the mysteries of life and death and eternity through the lives of a few characters in Grover’s Corners. Life in this tiny American town at the start of the 20th Century couldn’t be more different from the pace and complexity of the lives we seem to embrace today. But in the end, the questions are the same: Who are we? Where are we? Why are we? And can we ever really appreciate the beauty of life while we are living?
“We all know that something is eternal. And it ain’t houses and it ain’t names, and it ain’t earth, and it ain’t even the stars . . . everybody knows in their bones that something is eternal, and that something has to do with human beings. All the greatest people ever lived have been telling us that for five thousand years and yet you’d be surprised how people are always losing hold of it. There’s something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
That’s what I see and feel as I pray for, talk to and look at these children of God. They are eternal somehow, and they are beloved. They are just like me- insignificant in relation to the vastness of the universe (and the mind of God in which that is contained). But they are also connected to me, as I inhabit the same room in the same building at the same address in which they are living their last days. Or hours. Or minutes.
It is holy. It is lovely. It is a mystery of the sort that doesn’t need solving. It merely needs holding onto, deep in our bones.