Why being humanist means being a lover

Faith has served a purpose in my life. It provided resilience in the face of some of the gravest difficulties I'll ever face. It taught me to question, debate, and defend my ideas and dreams. It taught me the value of believing I am here for a purpose, that there was a metaphysical something that could see my potential in all my flawed humanity.

Because of the physical reality to which human knowledge is constrained at this point in history, it is hard for me to comprehend that something can come from nothing. All matter comes from other matter - there is nothing spontaneous about the development of our observable universe. Where did we come from? Were we created, either in a fully functional state as posited by the legends of the Bible, or as embryonic chemicals stored for eons in the stars and released by an explosion that transformed primordial soup into an evolving universe with an ever-changing genetic and phenotype landscape of mesmerizing, if possibly impermanent, beauty? Is it possible to live agnostic, accepting ambiguity, the I don't know answers to our deepest questions?

Perhaps what I conceived of as divine is actually human: I have a unique potential that serves me well as a professor - to see the hidden beauty and potential in the living, breathing miracles who cross the threshold of my office. I see the purpose concealed there, too. Perhaps this is love. To believe in people, to trust their journey and process, to have confidence in our ability to shape a future world in which respect defines us more than differences do.

After a long hiatus

The urge to write, so strong my fingers tap, eyelids flickering, as I try to sleep - it hasn't kept me awake for almost a year now. The creative fire burns brightest in my soul when the stress of life is overwhelming. When things go smoothly, I don't have to burst at the seams with words and images, I don't have to hunger and thirst for beauty like food, or air. What is that urge, that we must birth something from within to render significance to the events that are shaping us? Is it wielding control over the very things we can not control? As if by constructing our own narrative, we might dull our own pain, blunt our own experience. Is it the drive to share or at the very least, shine a light on the dim and lonely path for the next poor soul who stumbles down it?


Choices and ideas flow out before me like a waterfall of intersections. In the chaos, I lose clarity, the end goal is lost in the mist at the horizon. I know what I want. I want to love and be loved, to be free to do that in the way I need to do it. I'm not here to argue what made me this way, or even whether it's right or wrong, generally speaking. I just want to be free to love and be loved.





Thoughts from the bedside after a long night shift

My mother has bad feet. This is because she rarely gets off them. And so I sit - to chart, to tie my children's shoes, to visit with a patient. I've learned that sitting - the actual sitting part is key - with a patient is often the most therapeutic intervention I can offer in a 12 hour shift. When I enter the room, and I see a damp cheek, or glistening eyes; sense the reticence in the air as the person in that bed tries to hold themselves together while you measure vital signs and trade small talk. I'm not a fan of small talk, and measurements tell me much less about that person's health sometimes than a good chat can. I pull up the hard hospital chair, pull it close, and often reach for my patient's hand.


Last night, a stoic Scandinavian spent 10 minutes talking about the weather, her grandchildren, and her favorite card game before her eyes moistened and we got down to business talking about her looming cancer work-up. We cried together, her apologizing for taking my time with her worries, and I lamenting that I could do nothing more for her than accompany her in this pain. In that moment was a bit of the "silver lining" to my own cancer battle: I can say to that patient, "I have been in this space you're in. I know how difficult it is to want answers and find none. I know what it is like the first time you stare your death in the face." It really sucks that one of the main reasons I can figure for my own suffering is that it allows me to deeply empathize with patients going through similar trials! I wish I could say this to a few students I helped through hard times during nursing school - someday you will be glad you went through this, if only for a brief moment. It redeems some of that pain you've gone through when you can ease the pain of someone else because of it.


Back at the station, I was charting furiously and listening just as intently. I hear it all the time - this patient really should take better care of themselves. That patient should never have let it get that bad. Why is this patient so filthy? Why is that patient so addicted? The truth is, caregivers are as human as their patients, and cleanliness and good manners will get you gold stars in the hospital halls, too. If you haven't suffered much, it's hard to imagine not being able to wash your own feet, shave your own legs, not to mention those poor souls who can no longer clean themselves after toileting. Yet very few of those patients are dirty because they want to be. Whether they are hampered by more visible impairments like limited mobility, weakness, and disease, or the invisible tethers of mental illness, chronic pain and fatigue, they did not obstinately refuse to bathe. No homeless person set out to be so. I've never met an uninsured patient on state benefits and food stamps who planned that out while they were in high school. Why do we have expectations of others, even when they're ill?


Nurses, caregivers of all kinds, pull up a chair, take time to know the person you are caring for this shift. Not the diagnosis, lab values you are watching for, or med that hasn't come up from pharmacy. There is a person lying there suffering - vibrant once, with passions and fears, all kinds of adventures to tell you of, things they regret they may be pondering right this minute. Those moments spent just talking have become the most treasured of my career.


And if you ever have to go the hospital, take your grandma's advice and ALWAYS put on a clean pair of underwear!

Divorce: Feeling lost but being found

Saying goodbye to dreams in increments tends to cloud your memory of how you came to these decisions in the first place. I never imagined a life in which my children were not always with me in my home. I didn't set out to put myself at odds with my family and friends. Yet here I am, this week bidding adieu to my yellow farmhouse at a new level.

I never wanted to change the man I married. I never wanted to change my children. They all came to me - the man, his children - foreign, wholly other beings brimming over with themselves from the moment I first laid eyes on them. Why would I change creatures who fascinate me so? I don't want to change them now, even in this season of loss, as dreams warp and dissipate and relationships break and heal and change.


A person doesn't join another person in life choosing someone to change. A mother doesn't adopt children into her paradigm, but must evolve herself as each new being enters her care. The responsibility of parenthood in it's truest form is to nurture the child that comes into the family, celebrating and honing strengths and cradling weaknesses. I stand against those who've tried to teach me a child must be broken, their will crushed, or their character molded. I looked into the eyes of those babes as they came forth into the awareness of this other world we live in. I saw there the power in their personalities. I heard in their cries and felt in their rhythms their Achille's heels long before I could craft a description of them. I know they were fully and wholly themselves as they came to be, and I can only come alongside each of them as they emerge into the people they were born to become. Whoever that is - however different than my initial visions of them, however "right" or "wrong", healthy or unhealthy I perceive their choices to be, I was joined to them irrevocably as their blood and mine pooled together beneath me in their first minutes of life, the first of many sacrifices to be made so that I might reflect their most beautiful light. I can never forget that in the forge of life itself, in the muck and mire of family life, the diapers and the midnight bleary eyed dances in the kitchen; in the sorrows, losses, triumphs and simple moments of joy - we became ourselves together, these four people and I. This metamorphosis may have been halted somewhere along the way by the trauma of evil for me, yet it is the wisdom of such paralysis that has opened the floodgates for me to spill forth this third decade of my life. Right alongside my growing children.


I am their mother. I will cheer when they succeed (and probably shed a few tears). My heart will break with theirs as this cruel world crashes into theirs in all it's beauty and tragedy this next decade. Their words will pierce deeper than any other arrows into my spirit. And mine could do the same to them. Yet, ever more often, these compassionate little people, wise beyond their years, forged as they've been through suffering - they build me with their words. Caleb, with his sudden, fierce hugs, harshly whispers, "You're the best mama in the whole world." Amy, who cannot get enough of my skin, who needs me like the rest of us need water. Rosy who is quick to notice my mood and comfort and encourage with a specific strength or joy she noted in me earlier. Katy, who has always been a little me walking around outside my body: yet she is resilient, alert and stalwart in a way I wasn't born to be, and so I see myself, but sturdier, conscious, methodical, loyal.


In reality, I haven't said goodbye to my dreams. They've evolved, as I have, by necessity. I helped build a yellow farmhouse that was supposed to be where I raised a simple Christian family. Dreams can become prisons if they chafe the new, tender parts of you that emerge as you grow. I no longer fit that particular vision for my life: it isn't surprising that the life I made for the old me didn't match the me I found when I finally had the courage to look inside. The house and the dream aren't mine any longer, yet I feathered a nest with memories of comfort and the type of joy that is dancing spontaneously with your arms flung free, and I've left this legacy to reach into my children's futures in their hours apart from me. Some of us are the hermit crabs, shedding shells and walking vulnerable until we find a new home that fits.


I'll hold yin and yang for you, my children, and for myself. I will call twisting reshaping; I will see breaking as gaining perspective; I will try to hold your lives ever in the balance when I work hard to support you but never so hard that you lose me for it. In all this, not to ever lose myself again either, because in losing myself you all lose me, too, and these four at least need me.


It's like coming out of the long Alaskan winter, when the sun never rises. I am shaking the cold off my bones, I'm walking without a visible limp, my laugh has it's ring back. I'd recommend it, a thousand times over, for all it's agony, this journey of self discovery. Find yourself. I promise it's worth it. I promise you're so much more beautiful than you imagine. I promise you'll see what others have seen - however rare, we've all had a friend or two, a family member, a teacher, a coworker, someone who sees us and loves us. You've spent a lifetime already, I imagine, looking for the person inside you that people dislike. Have you ever thought to look for the person others do like? Why not give it a shot?