(Originally posted 8/08/2012)
Some day you’re going to apologize to your neighbor (who hates you, by the way) for backing over his cat and blaming it on the mail carrier.
Some day your humdrum existence will magically transform into the fairy tale life you have always dreamed of.
Some day you will hit the lottery and buy your neighbor a new cat. Okay, you won’t do that because you’ll move to a deserted island where you won’t have any neighbors.
If you believe one morning you’ll wake up, and your butt will have fallen off as you slept – that’s right – you’re delusional. (You might want to lay off the chocolate darlin’)
Wanna know where I’m at as I write this and why my thoughts went where they did? I am sitting with a dying hospice patient. I’ll call him Fred. I can’t show you a picture of him for obvious reasons, but I can show you a picture of the wall I’m staring at in his room. It’s 2:30 am, and I have been staring at this wall for two hours.
Fred has little family, and no one visits him. He was in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease when I first met him, so we were never able to communicate. I have no idea what he did for a living, but for now, he is my teacher, like all the patients I see.
I know what you’re thinking. How could someone who has lost the ability to respond to their environment or converse with anyone teach you anything? How could they impart words of wisdom like Mahatma Gandhi, shine a light on injustice like Martin Luther King, and inspire Jesus’ call to “serve the least of these” like Mother Theresa? Well, they can’t….
They can sometimes do more – at least for me – at this moment.
When I meet a new patient, I first look at the pictures in their room. Some, like my dear mother-in-law, have their walls and shelves cluttered with family pictures. They make for great conversation. But here’s my buddy Fred with four blank walls.
What am I supposed to do with that? I have discovered that that is the wrong question. The real question is – what is God wanting to teach me here?
It is no coincidence that at this very time, I am reading a most profound book by Kathleen Dowling Singh, “The Grace in Dying”.
So, what am I finally learning at this late stage in my life? What I have grown to believe from Gandhi, King, and Mother Theresa, has been personified by Singh and Fred.
Singh’s book moves from words on a page to experience that reaches the depth of my heart as I sit here with a dying man. I have grown to appreciate that this is Holy Ground and that God is truly present here.
I sense that God is trying to tell me during these times to review my own life. He calls out to anyone with ears to hear, “You’re gonna die too. Maybe even today. So, get your act together!”
Because I have a warped brain (DUH! Surely you know that by now), I had to laugh because that reminder sent me to this cartoon.
At this stage in life, considering priorities is surely in order, don’t you think? Can we stop obsessing over things that don’t…actually, never did...matter? Stop dwelling on old hurts, lost opportunities, and someone else’s expectations? Stop striving for more and more of what someone else will trash before you’re cold in your grave? Stop trying to control everything? Stop shadowboxing? Donate those skinny jeans that will likely NEVER fit you again (geeezzzzz)?
Singh tells us, “When we are deeply aware of our own impermanence, every fleeting moment is recognized as precious. Our desire to be present in each moment amplifies. Meditating on death instantly calls us to question on the deepest of levels. What am I doing? What do I want? What does this all mean? Contemplating our own mortality…our precariously impermanent existence can call us to complete and thorough accountability. It can call us to instant reordering, a rearranging of our priorities and our intentions. It blocks off all of our habitual detours into denial.”
The bare walls in Fred’s room don’t tell me anything about Fred, but they signify two realities for me: (1) To ask honestly if my life has been empty and void of significance. (2) God always offers us a clean slate – to begin again if I have failed to fulfill my purpose.
Thank you, Fred. In your dying, you are teaching me how to truly live while there is still breath in me.
Now, go in peace…I pray…into the hands of our loving and merciful God.