23 March 2008

I'm ready now.

There are times when everything seems right with the world. Ice cream tastes good and you wouldn't trade the warm sun on your face for all the riches in the world. I really cherish when moments like this come my way because I had a long period of darkness in my life and I really welcome the light. I welcome the love from an unexpected place or feeling unified with creation.

The problem seems to come, at least for me, when these feelings are nowhere to be found. What do you do or how do you think when everything you know, love, or value is suddenly gone? What is there left to bring hope?

Yesterday, I had two patients who tried to commit suicide. One patient came early on in the day and was not interested in connecting with me in any way. Well, I take that back – she did bite me and kick me a bit, but it wasn't the sort of connection I was hoping for. The second came close to the end of my shift when compassion is much more of an effort than a gift. I was bandaging up his arm after it was repaired and talking with him. I asked him a couple of carefully chosen questions and he answered. He had nothing to live for without chemicals, money, or his girlfriend. That was the sum of his existence and it had been taken away yesterday.

I got home to find a friend in my driveway. My heart was broken for his broken heart and there was nothing I could do but listen. It kills me when I can't offer more than a listening ear, but someone told me recently that the act of listening can be worship and so I worshiped with him last night. I heard of the pain that surges when someone you love so deeply and selflessly is ripped from your life. I worshiped as he told me about how much it hurt to know that there was nothing that he could do to bring her back – that he just had to sit in the pain and hope that, one day, it doesn't feel as blunt as it does right now.

Just before I went to bed last night, I was contacted by a friend of mine who was really struggling with hurting herself. She communicated the pain she was in and that cutting was a drug that made her feel alive. I felt helpless against the enormity her pain – like I couldn't do anything to take it away. If I could, I would swallow her pain and hurt in an instant so she could feel freedom, hope, and love. These are the things I wanted for her and couldn't figure out how to communicate them. I have big dreams for her freedom and the people she will reach once she is unbound. Last night all I could do is tell her I love her and that I'm here for her.

It's Easter morning and so many of the people I love are hurting. I woke up less than an hour ago, sat up in my bed, and began weeping for the intense pain that I felt yesterday. Suffering is vast, endless, and everywhere and this is the morning that we celebrate the rise of Christ. What a dichotomy. If this story is true, if Jesus did live, die, and rise again, then he is the common thread woven through each of these lives. If he is able to swallow our pain, take it on himself and suffer in our place, then knowing him intimately is the only relevant thing in all this.

And so we are ready for his return.

07 March 2008

The smell of smoke and rain.

It isn’t so hard for me to imagine how he could drag the knife across is arm like he did. The wrist is such a sensitive and passionate part of the body, it seems only natural that’s where he’d choose to go first. I’ve seen all kinds of suicide attempts over the last few years and I think they are the patients I can identify with the most. They are the ones who have experience the brunt of life’s ugliness and have decided that they have had enough. I get that.

The thing about cutting, too, is that it gives something legitimate and physical to mourn. The lacerations are symbolic wounds giving eye to something much deeper and undefined. The pain of failure, uncertainty, disappointing your wife, failing your children, a myriad of deep passions not pursued – these all go unseen in a man’s heart until one day he cracks. A cut in the skin brings that to the surface.

“Talk to me,” I said.

“About what? There’s nothing to say.”

“Tell me about the cutting, the alcohol. Tell me about your day.”

As he shared about his delinquent son and disconnected marriage, there were a few things that stood out to me. One is that his hair and demeanor were remarkably like that of Gene Wilder – spry and unruly. The other thing I noticed was that his eyes smiled when he looked at me. A smile slowly climbed my face as I listened because I believed there was hope for him.

“You get it, don’t you?” he asked me, not in reference to anything he was saying.

“Yes, I do. I get it and I get you and I think you’re brilliantly normal,” I said. Oddly, I was saying this in a quiet room saturated with the smell of this peppermint schnapps soaked body. I was saying it to a man whose wrist were bandaged from self-inflicted wounds and I don’t think that makes him abnormal. I think that makes him broken and human.

I later took him outside for a cigarette and I listened, mostly, to the things he loved about his son – about the hopes he has for him one day. It was getting dark and the thunderstorm was at it’s peak when my eyes welled. It broke my heart to think how my life would have been different – even just for today – had he pressed down just a little bit harder. I took in the aroma of smoke and liquor and rain and I couldn’t help but think how this smell crossed me as perfect, just perfect.