Choosing Another Day

right before the moonrise

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
~G.K. Chesterton

Over a dozen times every clinic day
I ask someone:
tell me your thoughts about ending your life…

Even so~~
someone then decides what to reveal
and what not to.

I’m allowed
another day
to do my best
to be present for someone who is unsure~

and perhaps as this day dies
there will come another
when I might help someone
choose
to live another day.

Why are we allowed another day?

A Bleeding Heart

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Love your neighbor as yourself is part of the great commandment.

The other way to say it is, ‘Love yourself as your neighbor.’ Love yourself not in some egocentric, self-serving sense but love yourself the way you would love your friend in the sense of taking care of yourself, nourishing yourself, trying to understand, comfort, strengthen yourself.

Ministers in particular, people in the caring professions in general, are famous for neglecting their selves with the result that they are apt to become in their own way as helpless and crippled as the people they are trying to care for and thus no longer selves who can be of much use to anybody. 

It means pay mind to your own life, your own health and wholeness, both for your own sake and ultimately for the sake of those you love too. Take care of yourself so you can take care of them.

A bleeding heart is of no help to anybody if it bleeds to death.
~Frederick Buechner from Telling Secrets

 

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We are reminded every time we hear safety instructions on an airplane before a flight takes off: “in the event of a sudden pressure change in the cabin, oxygen masks will appear – remember to put your own on before helping others with their masks.”   

If we aren’t able to breathe ourselves, we won’t last long enough to be of assistance to anyone around us.  Too often,  sacrificing self-care threatens others’ well-being.

A headline appeared in my email from the American Psychiatric Association this morning: “Physicians Experience the Highest Suicide Rate of Any Profession” – there is rampant depression and burn-out among those who should know best how to recognize and respond to the danger signs — for women physicians, nearly 1 out of 5 are afflicted.   Yet the work load only seems to increase, not diminish, the legal and moral responsibility weighs more heavily, and the hours available for sleep and respite shrink.  In forty years of practicing medicine (my father liked to remind me “when are you going to stop ‘practicing’ and actually ‘do’ it?”),  the work has never gotten easier, only harder and heavier.

I see suicidal patients all day and am immensely grateful I’ve never been suicidal, thank God, but anxiety is embedded deep in my DNA from my non-physician fretful farmer ancestors.  Anxiety becomes the fuel and driver of the relentless physician journey on long lonely roads, spurring us to stay awake too many hours and travel too far when we should be closing our eyes and taking a break to breathe, just breathe.

However, we are trained to respond to anxiety from the first day in anatomy class:
“and while you, Miss Polis, are trying to think of the name of that blood vessel, your patient is exsanguinating in front of you– drip, drip, drip….”

Terror-stricken at the thought I was inadequate to the task of saving a life, it took years for me to realize the name of the vessel didn’t bloody matter as long as I knew instinctively to clamp it, compress it, or by the love of the Living God, transfuse my own blood from my bleeding heart into my patient’s.

I learned well those many years ago:

To save a life, I must preserve my own.

 

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A Deep Fear of Emptiness

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Wheels of baled hay bask in October sun:
Gold circles strewn across the sloping field,
They seem arranged as if each one
Has found its place; together they appeal
To some glimpsed order in my mind
Preceding my chance pausing here —
A randomness that also seems designed.
Gold circles strewn across the sloping field
Evoke a silence deep as my deep fear
Of emptiness; I feel the scene requires
A listener who can respond with words, yet who
Prolongs the silence that I still desire,
Relieved as clacking crows come flashing through,
Whose blackness shows chance radiance of fire.
Yet stillness in the field remains for everyone:
Wheels of baled hay bask in October sun.
~Robert Pack “Baled Hay” from Rounding it Out: A Cycle of Sonnetelles (1999).

 

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Each day I am called to see and listen,
to open fully to all that is around me.
From the simple stillness of the fields
surrounding our farm,
to the weeping of those who sit with me
day after day
in their deep fear of emptiness,
their struggle with whether to try to live
or give up and die.

Their deep fear of emptiness renders me silent;
I struggle to respond with words
that might offer up a healing balm
assuring them even in the darkest time
hope lies waiting, wrapped and baled,
radiant as fire,
ready to spill out fragrant,
to bear us silently to a new morning,
to a stillness borne of grace.

 

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Another Day

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moon rise to the east

Here dies another day
During which I have had eyes, ears, hands
And the great world round me;
And with tomorrow begins another.
Why am I allowed two?
~G.K. Chesterton

snowglow3

snowglowfarm

Even on a Saturday,
usually catch-up on
everything I didn’t get done at work this week,
or cleaning house or barn at home,
instead today is spent
in state-mandated training
on suicide assessment and care.

Even though twenty times every day
I ask someone:
can tell me about your thoughts about ending your life?

Even so~~
there is more to learn
and to teach others.

I’ve been allowed
another day
to do my best
to be present
and maybe as this day dies
there will come
another
when I can help someone
choose to live another day.

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Questions Die Away

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I know now, Lord, why you utter no answer.
You are yourself the answer.
Before your face questions die away.
~C.S. Lewis from Till We Have Faces

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Today I help greet new and returning 15,000 college students who begin classes this week at my university.  Each one seeks answers to their many difficult questions about life and how to live in this troubled time.

Every day I will see college students who are so consumed by anxiety about the questions in their lives they become immobilized in their ability to move forward through inevitable obstacles and difficulties.  They become so stuck in overwhelming feelings they can’t sleep or eat or think clearly, distracted by their symptoms.  They self-medicate, self-injure and self-hate.  Being unable to nurture themselves or others, they wither like a young tree without roots deep enough to reach the vast reservoir of answers that lies untapped beneath them.  In epidemic numbers, some decide to die, even before life really has fully begun for them.

I grieve for them in their distress.   My role is to help find healing solutions, whether it is counseling therapy, a break from school, or a medicine that may give some form of relief.  My heart knows the ultimate answer is not as simple as the right prescription.

Before the face of God, the questions fall away.

We who are anxious are not trusting a Creator who does not suffer from attention deficit disorder and who is not distracted from His care for us even when we turn away in worry and sorrow.  We magnify our difficult circumstances by staying so tightly into ourselves, unable to look beyond our own eyelashes.  Instead we are to reach higher and deeper, through prayer, through service to others, through acknowledging there is power greater than ourselves who can answer all our unaskable questions.

So we are called to pray for ourselves and for others,  disabling our anxiety and fear and transforming it to gratitude and grace.

No longer withering, no longer deaf to the answers we’ve been given, we just might bloom.

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An Oath of Loyalty to Life

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It is…the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life…
The man who kills a man kills a man.

The man who kills himself kills all men.
As far as he is concerned, he wipes out the world.
~ G.K. Chesterton

Suicide rates globally have climbed 60% in the past forty years,
particularly in developed countries.
Based on the distress of the patients I see every day,
the easy contemplation of suicide,
if only a passive “I wish I were dead”,
there will be no slowing of this trend.

…when there is no sense of loyalty to life, as stressful and messy as it can be,
…when there is no honoring of the holiness of the created being,
…when there is no resistance to the buffeting winds of life,
only a toppling over, taking out everything and everyone in the way,
…the world is wiped out, all people killed in one act of self-murder.

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