A Salt Water Cure

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…when he looked at the ocean,
he caught a glimpse of the One he was praying to.

Maybe what made him weep was
how vast and overwhelming it was

and yet at the same time as near
as the breath of it in his nostrils,
as salty as his own tears.

~Frederick Buechner writing about Paul Tillich in Beyond Words

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The cure for anything is salt water–sweat, tears or the sea.
~Isak Dinesen

 

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

I grew up an easy crier.  Actually growing up hasn’t cured it, nor has middle age.  I’m still an easy crier – a hard thing to admit especially when my tears flow at an inopportune time in a public place.

It might have had something to do with being a middle child, bombarded from both directions by siblings who recognized how little aggravation it took to make me cry, or it may have been my hypersensitive feelings about …. everything.  I felt really alone in my tearful travails until my formidable grandmother, another easy weepy, explained that my strong/tall/tough/nothing-rocks-him former WWII Marine father had been a very weepy little boy.  She despaired that he would ever get past being awash in tears at every turn.  His alcoholic father tormented him about it, wondering if he would ever learn to “man up.”

So this is a congenital condition and that’s my excuse.

A few years ago I read a fascinating article about how different kinds of tears (tears of joy, tears of pain, tears of grief, tears of frustration, tears of irritated eyes, tears of onion cutting) all look different and remarkably apt, when dried and pictured under the microscope.  This is more than mere salt water leaking from our eyes — this is our heart and soul and hormonal barometer streaming down our faces – a visible litmus test of our deepest feelings.

I witness many tears every day in my office, and not tears of joy.  These are tears borne of pain and loss and rejection and failure, of hopelessness and helplessness, loneliness and anguish.  Often my patients will describe having a “break down” by which they mean uncontrollable crying.  It is one of the first-mentioned symptoms they want relief from.

Tears do come less frequently as depression lifts and anxiety lessens but I let my patients know (and remind myself) that tears are a transparent palette for painting the desires and concerns of our heart.  Dry up the tears and one dries up emotions that express who we are and who we strive to be.

When I’m able, I celebrate the salt water squeezing from my eyes, knowing it means I’m so fully human that I leak my humanity everywhere I go.  Even God wept while dwelling among us on earth, and what’s good enough for Him is certainly good enough for me.

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Beauty Is Not Enough

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Oh, is it not enough to be
Here with this beauty over me?
My throat should ache with praise, and I
Should kneel in joy beneath the sky.

O beauty, are you not enough?
Why am I crying after love,
With youth, a singing voice, and eyes
To take earth’s wonder with surprise?

I, for whom the pensive night
Binds her cloudy hair with light,—
I, for whom all beauty burns
Like incense in a million urns?

O beauty, are you not enough?
Why am I crying after love?
~Sara Teasdale from “Spring Night”

 

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When you stand before the most amazing sunset

or when you see the beauty of a human face,
whether it’s a little baby
or a lovely  wise old person,
there is a haunting quality to it,
as though it’s not just complete in itself. 
It’s a signpost to a larger truth
that is just around the corner,
just out of sight.
We can’t grip it,
can’t get our hands on it.
It’s as though we’re hearing the echo of a voice,
and we’d love to hear whose that voice is
and what story it’s telling.
Part of the joy of beauty
is the realization that it is part of a larger whole,
most of which appears to be just out of sight. 
We are drawn forward toward something…
and left waiting, wondering.
~N.T. Wright from Life, God and Other Small Topics

 

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Beauty is the link that connects,
the magnet that brings us home,
the encouragement
to look beyond,
to think more deeply,
to believe in something beyond our grasp~
Beauty leaves us crying after love
that bleeds for us
and heals all that is broken in us.

 

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Not Just Another Day

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“This is another day, O Lord…
If I am to stand up, help me to stand bravely.
If I am to sit still, help me to sit quietly.
If I am to lie low, help me to do it patiently.
And if I am to do nothing, let me do it gallantly.”
— Kathleen Norris citing the Book of Common Prayer

 

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This day is the wrap-up to my twenty-eighth academic year working as a college health physician,  the most demanding so far.  Despite budget challenges, inadequate staffing, a higher severity of illness in a patient population with burgeoning mental health needs,  our staff did an incredible job this year serving students and their families with the resources we do have.   Reaching this day today is poignant: we will miss the graduating students we have gotten to know so well over four or five years,  we watch others leave temporarily for the summer, some to far away places around the globe, and we weep for those who have failed out, given up or fallen away from those who care deeply about them, some never to return to school again.

In my work I strive to do what is needed when it is needed no matter what time of the day or night.  There are obviously times when I fall short– too vehement when I need to be quiet, too urgent and pressured when I need to be patient,  too anxious to do something/anything when it is best to courageously do nothing.  It is very difficult for any doctor to choose to do nothing but I vowed in my own graduation ceremony over forty years ago to “First do no harm.”  And I’ve tried hard to live up to that vow.

In a sense I graduate as well on this last day of the school year– only not with cap and gown and diploma in hand.  Each year I learn enough from each patient to fill volumes, as they speak of their struggles, their pain, their stories and sometimes hearing, most tragically, their forever silence.

I honor our students and their families on this day, sharing the blessings from us who work toward the goal of sending them healthier and better equipped and joyful into the rest of their lives.

It is not just another day.

 

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When the Storm Passes

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This has been a wild weather month on the outside:

heavy winds at times, damaging hale storms, snowfall covering the foothills, sweaty sunny middays, torrential unpredictable showers, ankle-deep mud.

And inside my cranium:

words that flew out too quickly, anxiety mixed with a hint of anger, too easy tears, searing frustration, feeling immobilized by the daily muck and mire.

The unpredictable month of May needs no explanation for acting like October, December and August within a span of a few hours.  I am not so easily forgiven or unburdened.  I end up lying awake at night with regrets, composing apologies, and wanting to hide under a rock until the storm blows over.

But in the midst of all the extremes, while the storm is raging, a miracle takes place:
it can only happen when brilliant light exposes weeping from heavy laid clouds, like the rainbow that dropped from heaven last week to touch the earth right in our backyard, only a few feet from our barn.

God cries too.  His wept tears have lit up the sky in a promise of forgiveness.
He assures us: this storm too will pass.

He assures us because He knows we need it.

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Coming to the End of Things

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And by and by Christopher Robin came to the end of things,
and he was silent,
and he sat there, looking out over the world,
just wishing it wouldn’t stop.

~A.A. Milne from The House at Pooh Corner

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Yes, long shadows go out
from the bales; and yes, the soul
must part from the body:
what else could it do?

…These things happen … the soul’s bliss
and suffering are bound together
like the grasses …

The last, sweet exhalations
of timothy and vetch
go out with the song of the bird;
the ravaged field
grows wet with dew.
~Jane Kenyon from “Twilight: After Haying”

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Bliss and suffering are bound together like the grasses; we are like the grasses withered and ravaged by time, released reluctant to the wind.

Tears flow today as they must, wetting the stubble left behind,  clinging and sparkling like dew.

We weep in sorrow for those we have lost;
we weep for joy each time we’re able to wake to another day.

For what else can a soul do but weep at parting and weep at welcoming?

These things happen, oh yes, they happen. I just wish it wouldn’t cut us so.

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Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
~Psalm 103: 15

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Ephemeral and Sacred

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Beauty, to the Japanese of old, held together the ephemeral with the sacred. Cherry blossoms are most beautiful as they fall, and that experience of appreciation lead the Japanese to consider their mortality. Hakanai bi (ephemeral beauty) denotes sadness, and yet in the awareness of the pathos of life, the Japanese found profound beauty.

For the Japanese, the sense of beauty is deeply tragic, tied to the inevitability of death.

Jesus’ tears were also ephemeral and beautiful. His tears remain with us as an enduring reminder of the Savior who weeps. Rather than to despair, though, Jesus’ tears lead the way to the greatest hope of the resurrection. Rather than suicide, Jesus’ tears lead to abundant life.
~Makoto Fujimura

 

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Everyone feels grief
when cherry blossoms scatter.
Might they then be tears –
those drops of moisture falling
in the gentle rains of spring?
~Otomo no Juronushi (late 9th century)

 

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Thoughts still linger –
but will those who have parted
return once again?

Evening is deep in the hills
where cherry blossoms fall.
~Shinkei (1406-1475)

 

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Again today I will see patients in my clinic who are struggling with depression, who are contemplating whether living another day is worth the pain and effort.  Most describe their feelings completely dry-eyed, unwilling to let their emotions flow from inside and flood their outsides.  Others sit soaking in tears of hopelessness and despair.

Their weeping moves and reassures me — it is a raw and authentic spilling over when the internal dam is breaking.  It is so human, yet we know tears contain the divine.

When I read that Jesus weeps as He witnesses the tears of grief of His dear friends, I am comforted.  He understands and feels what we feel, His tears just as plentiful and salty, His overwhelming feelings of love brimming so full they must be let go and cannot be held back.

Jesus who wept with us became a promise of ultimate joy.

There is beauty in this, His rain of tears, the spilling of the divine onto our mortal soil.

 

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A fallen blossom
Returning to the bough, I thought –
But no, a butterfly.
~Arakida Moritake (1473-1549)

 

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fallen sakura petals in Tokyo (photo by Nate Gibson)

Turn Aside and Look: Make a Stone Weep

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When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
S
ome of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
“I tell you,”
he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”

As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said,
“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.
The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”
Luke 19: 37-44

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Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ‘ her being as unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ‘ self ín self steepèd and páshed – quite
Disremembering, dísmémbering, ‘ áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ‘ whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
~Gerard Manley Hopkins from “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves”

 

We human beings do real harm. History could make a stone weep.
Marilynne Robinson–Gilead

 

 

Created with the freedom to choose our own way, we tend to opt for the path of least resistance with the highest pay back, no matter who we bloody, trample, pummel or drag kicking and screaming in the process.

Hey, after all, we’re only human and that’s our excuse and we’re sticking to it.

No road less traveled on for most of us–instead we blindly head down the superhighway of what’s best for number one, no matter what it costs to get there, how seedy the billboards or how many warning signs appear, or where the ultimate destination takes us. History is full of the piled-high wrecking yards of demolition remnants from crashes along the way.

It’s enough to make even a stone weep. Certainly God wept and likely still does.

Thankfully we can rest in this ultimate confidence:  He knew what He was doing and thought it good — despite enduring tears and the bloody thorns.

 

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