Gifts from the Frontlines...
For those who show up...however they can for love
Last night I gathered some friends and went to San Francisco's stunning Grace Cathedral for a choral concert. We were women friends watching a women's chorus as a rare birthday celebration for me. Mostly I ignore birthdays and their quickening accumulation. But I am making an effort and "acting as if" this aging thing is something I am capable of accepting. (Let me just say, I am making progress...on the attitude I am likely to need for a lovely decrepitude. ;-))
The concert was packed with well-bundled people, who appeared prepared for the chilly space of a lofty, stone Gothic cathedral (and perhaps celebrate the eve of the women's march) The early sacred music was mostly acappella from all over the world: Bulgaria, England, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Russia, Japan, and Estonia. The astounding craft and collaboration of Kitka Women's Vocal Ensemble and Vajra Voices was magnified by the resonant space of Grace Cathedral. ( Here is an NPR link about Kitka...at Grace Cathedral.)
Captivated and mesmerized as we were, the crowd cooperated to become a small, ephemeral community without our consciously noting it...
With no intermission, and no applause until the end, we held the silence for an hour and a half with no breaks. One poor soul sounded out behind me with a miserably stifled cough...absorbing the violence of their respiratory distress inwardly. (It sounded like it hurt.)
Being prepared, I had several Ricolas with me–that Swiss herbal cough drop loved the world over. I dug quietly in my purse and handed several to the closest person behind me. Then it happened. There was a moment when I made eye contact with an older woman, who I had noted earlier as particularly moved by the music. She shook her head and said with a gesture "Not me...", and pointed backward to the row behind her. Before I could respond in any way that our silent communion allowed, the man next to her took my Ricola and immediately passed it back to the next row behind him. Being closer to the muffled misery, he knew the direction from which it came. Then a person in the next row silently took it, and passed it yet again. The mint candy silently and swiftly reached its destination–i.e. the person in distress.
It was a small but powerful wave of intentional kindness, which executed efficiently, and without a leader...
I felt like I had witnessed and participated in some ancient happening. In the early music's complex harmonies, we linked up, immediately and momentarily, to soothe a suffering.
It was a small thing, for sure, but so automatic and directed. It seemed more like a knowing akin to bees in a hive than humans. Did the music's intelligence, or harmonies work this magic? Did we just relax into the music's beauty and momentarily forget our separateness?
Being a caregiver, it reminds me of how in my own many moments of small desperation, the right person showed up to help, or piece of knowledge was given, or dinner was made or left. It seemed a greater good working for and through us...and the miraculous happened. The key, here, is to stop struggling...and Wait Here. But relaxed and with that 'acting as if" thing around acceptance of those things which are givens and cannot be changed.
Accepting 'What is" is easier if it sneaks up on us hidden in the beauty of what we can see and hear... How can we trick ourselves into relaxing into the tender trenches of our humanity? I recommend a celebration–even if small.
“If you didn’t have Eve, you couldn’t have Mary,” says Karen R. Clark, the founder and director of Vajra Voices. “You can’t have one without the other. As the Buddhists say, no mud, no lotus.” - San Jose Mercury News - January 15, 2019
Have you seen "On the Basis of Sex..."? The thing is...it all started with a caregiver.
It's a well done movie–relevant recent history about gender equality. But the thing is...the revolution started with a caregiver. A good son was caregiving his mother and he got slammed by the IRS saying THAT deduction was only for men.
Ruth Bader Ginsberg and the ACLU found it to be a perfect test case to start challenging all the laws that we now take for granted. All of you caregivers out there will relate to this poor guy's daily grind. Mom in a chair, dementia eating away at her, him stuck in the chaos and he's got another battle with the IRS.
Go see the movie. It is an important and healthy distraction...while you do it...remember what you are doing matters.
I have started a daily practice of gathering serendipitous wisdom from the day. I have a plan to create something more public–perhaps a video or audio daily live chat called "The Good Enough Daily". It is on a long list of possibles: TBD.
But until then, let me tell you about them on the hopes that it may inspire you to do the same. Here are some I use...there are so many card decks out there...
I draw cards as part of my waking up process...usually with coffee. They are part of my own spiritual practices each day to help me taking care of myself...and keep my inner balance as I take care of many each day as a hospice chaplain.
This is also for the fifteen MILLION unpaid caregivers who are doing the daily, chaotic work of caring for their infirm loved ones.
Much like my weekly sound meditations in San Francisco, I listen for what is 'in the room'. There I ask people to <quickly> check in:
It's a form of meditative improv in service of love. So is drawing cards every morning.
Improv 'What is" is one of the rules in the Fieldguide. Any of its many forms of implementation is a good practice for me. You see my (prairie, bootstrapped) inclination is to want to get 'it' perfect and over prepare for whatever...
Life is not that way. All I (and you) have to do is show up knowing we are enough...and worthy to be participating in what is in front of us. Then we do the best we are able. Both (preaching) ministers at my Unity Church in San Francisco are stellar at improv on the stage...but for me it is a learning edge.
Because we all have our edges. At last Sunday's meditation, several people spoke about the edge between what shows up in the world and what shows up inside us...and then there is the pause. This is the place of choice...do we choose to react, respond? Are we triggered? Are we needing to be right? This is the same edge for us all.
Reading the Day
It is in same way that I draw several cards from my various (and lovely) spiritual card decks each morning and take a moment (but not too many moments...) to see if there a pattern to the cards drawn. I then read this wisdom and speak about it for eight minutes, because who has a lot of time in the mornings?
...and I have theme music, too. "Good Enough" by Karen Drucker. She is awesome, if you are not familiar with her as both a songwriter and a performer. Check out her song if you want a lift to your day.
An eclipsing moon in the East greeted me when opening my door to the still dark day. Before early morning chores (before I fed my two cats—Smith and Wesson, before even coffee…), I saw, but did not know, if the show was almost done or just beginning. However, I knew with a different part of me that it was to be spectacular.
This is the oh-so-human way of discerning: head and heart. These days, as a hospice chaplain, and caregiver to caregivers, I listen more carefully now.
The eclipsing heart is unbalanced... (read more...click below)
Like a clueless Dorothy in the land of Oz, I found myself caregiving...
I was stuck there, having misplaced any wizard who might have gotten me back to my old life in San Francisco. I didn't like it; it was not part of my plans.
In that stuckness, I also chose to show up for my infirm loved one.
I argued with gravity for several years. I didn't win...
I tried to do them both—caregiving and the job. Like 44 million of us out there (in the USA alone), multi-tasking two lives. I didn't do either particularly well.
The Kaiser palliative RN symposium where I was speaking about resilience for pro caregivers...and my book...was easy (and went quite well) once I stopped reading my notes and spoke from my heart. I don't know how many times I need to learn this lesson—speaking with people, not at them.
It is so easy at bedside in hospice (or supporting my bereaved) to still my noisy mind, listen deeply and respond from that place...or let the space be empty. In good design, they call it "white space".
But... it feels so different when sixty-five palliative nurses are watching you, waiting for my amplified words to fill the gap between us—my words.
Oddly, it's not. As a chaplain and a woman of (growing all the time) faith, I agree with the radical French Jesuit theologian, paleontologist and geologist, Teilhard de Chardin, when he said:
"We are spiritual beings, having a human experience."
If that is true (and I have ample life, bedside and death bed evidence of this), then there is just one of us here, or at minimum we are nuclear family. My point about speaking up (and speeches) is that we are all among family—all the time.
Sweet, right? (And, it's a better tactic than imagining all of you/us naked...)
I am preparing a collaborative series of presentations around my new book and working with a dear friend to accomplish it. It is great (chaplain) fun to find common ground between the sacred wisdoms and with the highly actionable nature of neuroscience research.
Heart and head are powerful partners which change the planet...and certainly our lives.
This day long symposium is on resiliency in nursing.
These beautiful professional caregivers experience much of the same stress symptoms as their unpaid sisters and brothers on the front lines of love. But the opportunity to work with a true friend when doing this work (that matters...) is an exceptional thing.
My father was a wise man: John W. Hager
He is gone from this earth and has been for decades, but his words are alive in me. His saying about the quantity (of friends) that make one's life rich, flies in the social media's face. As a new author, I am validated by how many people sign up for messages from me (...and by all means, please sign up). Having said that, however, the magnitude of a nearby friend, one that shows up with treats when they hear a twitch in your best "I'm fine" survival voice, is measured on an earthquake scale.
The 4.8 earthquake (which woke me up last night) is felt by all. But only one more richter point and it is feared by all.
A true friend is a wonder...they gently turn post-traumatic-stress from disorder to order...and growth.
(or maybe even some fun.)
The amazing thing about being an author is to see the progress that your book is making. It is making its way into the world. It offers the notion that we can change how we do caregiving.
It's a big order... to care for yourself while you are caring for a loved one who has fallen ill. Most of us don't practice resilience but (with luck) restoration and reconstruction at the end of the day...or week or month.
It takes a toll. It's traumatic and it can make you resilient; post traumatic growth is possible. I offer my rules as gifts to you, those fourty-four million Americans who are trying to navigate this tricky shoreline.
Check it out on Amazon. (Search for EM Hager)