For many years now, I have had a Thanksgiving tradition. I go to my church in the morning and join others in prayer. But I must confess, one of the main reasons I always make sure to go on Thanksgiving day in particular is to hear the homily. My pastor, also my friend, has his own tradition that he shares with us. For the last 25 years, he has gotten up on Thanksgiving morning and written a letter to someone he should have said thank you to years ago. He then reads the letter in church as his homily. I am not sure a year has gone by when he hasn't broken down and had to stop to compose himself while reading his letter. He then invites us to do the same. To write a letter to someone we've been meaning to thank. This is only my 5th year doing this - but I must say it is a wonderful tradition. And this year, my letter is to you.
My dear readers,
Thank you. If you are one of my patients, I owe you a special debt of gratitude because it was you who inspired me to start this blog two years ago on Thanksgiving Day. I started it for you because I saw and felt your suffering and pain so profoundly. I saw you struggling, trying to figure out how your pain could make any sense in the grand scheme of things. Some of you I have witnessed being steadfast in your faith. Many of you I have seen in doubt or anguish because it has been too hard to believe in a God who could allow such misery and cruelty in our world. Some of you haven't been sure you really believe in anything but you were curious about the spiritual, wondering if there is... if there could be...
I have shared elsewhere in this blog about my adolescent struggles to try to figure out if there is a God and whether life has any meaning. Of course, I could never arrive at an answer with certainty. I had to take a "leap of faith" at some point. But the one thing that kept me going in my pursuit of meaning was the idea of trying to reduce suffering. I thought, "Even if there is nothing, if there is no God and the lives we lead begin and end for no reason, my life could have meaning if only I could ease the suffering of others." I realized that this was a grandiose goal and so I reduced my focus to just easing the suffering of one person. I knew I could not change the world. I knew I could not even change the terrible circumstances that some of my neighbors endured. But if I could just help one person hurt a bit less, it would have been worth it.
In the thirty-plus years since I set out on that venture, so much has happened. I have been blessed to walk with many, many people who were hurting. So many have shared their burdens with me, their tears, their anger, their shame. I have felt quite unworthy at times. How could I ever live up to the hope they placed in me? As I matured from my adolescent fantasies, I realized that people's problems were far more complex and difficult to resolve than I had imagined. Simply caring was not enough. Everything I learned in my education was not enough. Even my own suffering and the lessons it taught me, though powerful, were not enough. I began to pray for my patients. I began to pray every night for "a spirit of wisdom, understanding and compassion". I began to realize that I could be a part of the healing of my patients only if I got out of the way and emptied myself, allowing the divine Healer to be at work in me. Learning this has been a long process - and one that is ongoing. I, like you, am a work in progress and my weaknesses would terrify me if I believed only in myself.
I started this blog because I thought perhaps I could offer a bit of hope, especially for patients who were hurting badly. I did not know what would happen when I started out. I began by writing a few thoughts - and to my surprise, the words I wrote relentlessly found their way back to God, even though that hadn't been my initial plan. I sometimes found that the words flowed in ways that amazed me, as though they were not mine. Other times, I found myself struggling to write, only to realize that I was trying to make something happen. Once I let go, something far better took its place. I then found myself wanting to add something visual - for hope cannot be just a thing of words. I borrowed photos that first Easter and they were beautiful. But then I bought a camera and came to realize that with it, I could begin to see in a way I had not before. Beauty began to appear before me. It had always there but I had not been noticing it. I wanted to capture it, so that I could share it with you. I wanted you, in your suffering, to see what I had started to see. And something similar began to happen with music. The piano that I had lost interest in came back to life in my soul. So much has happened in this sharing of hope...
So why am I thanking you, my readers? Because it was the possibility of you that triggered this experience of cascading spirituality and art within me. The thought that you (even the you's I have not met yet) looking to this blog for a bit of hope has led me to find more hope, more beauty than I could have ever imagined. I have found it and enjoyed it immensely. So my life is richer. But it would not have been richer without you. Had I taken the photos or played the piano just for myself, it would have meant little. Doing it so that I could share it with you drew me into a creativity that I can only call Divine. For I do not create the beauty - but I am invited to live it, to express it, to share it (and so are you, in your own unique way).
(By the way, if you are not one of my patients, I still thank you deeply. The very first time I clicked on the "publish" button for this blog, I was terrified. I was afraid to have even those of you who are closest to me read what I wrote. I was afraid of your judgment - not just of negative judgment, though that is scary - but also of positive judgment. I was afraid that your reactions might cause me to lose focus and think this was all about me. I was afraid I would start writing to gain your approval. The experience of knowing that you could be reading ended up being a grace - as it enabled me to push past such silly fears and let God lead the way...)
So, a happy, blessed Thanksgiving to you, my readers, whether there are two of you or two hundred (though I seriously doubt the latter). It has been a glorious fall season and I have been blessed once again with the experience of discovering a staggering beauty in our world of sorrows.
Please allow me once again to share it...
(To view my fall photo album, click on the image below. You will leave this site and be taken to the album. If you would like to view it as a slideshow, click on the "slideshow" button in the upper left; hit the "escape" button on your keyboard to exit the slideshow. As always, you are welcome to download any of my photos for your personal, nonprofit use. You may access all of my public albums at any time from the left sidebar of this blog.)