One of the books that our CPE supervisor taught from in weekly Didactic sessions was "How Then Shall We Live" by Wayne Muller. It's a great book. We're reading through it in our Lectio Group. Everyone is enjoying it immensely. Thanks Delmas!
The following writing is my response/interpretation of a reading from the “How Shall I Live, Knowing I Shall Die” section of Wayne Muller’s 1996 book, “How Then Shall we Live.” Names in the story have been changed for privacy.
The 72 labors of perpetual care
July 23, 2014
There is an old Buddhist prayer that monks recite before meals that begins with this line: "First 72 labors brought us this food. We should know how it comes to us.” Their point being that we should become more aware of all the connections in our life. Do you ever think about such labors in regards to your own food? In light of this prayer let’s consider my morning latte which is something I take for granted on a daily basis. How many people did it take for it to get to me? I’m not exactly sure but here goes: the Farmer who prepared the field, the planter, the picker, processor, roaster, miller, exporter, importer, dock workers, ship workers, truckers, packagers, grinders, brewers, cup manufacturers, coffee machine makers, the coffee stand owner and of course, the Baristas. That’s just 18 labors that I know of and that’s without even discussing the milk!
What would my life be like if I remembered all these connections? How much more grateful would I be for this latte that sits in front of me? And how much more would I enjoy the latte knowing how much I have received? Did you know that gratefulness slows time down?Over the past 2 weeks I’ve had several conversations with people in which the idea of giving and receiving was mentioned. Everyone agreed that giving was a lot easier than receiving. For all of us here at this table today, we know how to give. It’s probably why we went into hospice work. We love to give. But many of us struggle with receiving. We almost bristle at the idea of receiving. Why is that? I think it’s because we easily forget reality. And that reality is that we constantly rely on others for our well-being (and for our lattes.)
This was made very evident this week at the office when our co-worker, Lina, quite suddenly became very ill. How frightening that was. And yet she was not alone. Her experience did not occur in a vacuum. Everyone gathered around her. Everyone felt her pain and her fear. And just as those 18 labors connected me to my morning latte how much more were we all connected to Lina and one another? 911 was called. EMT’s arrived. Rhonda took blood pressure & monitored vitals. Kristen lay on the floor with her. Doug managed the phones and Julie rode to the hospital with her. Doctors and nurses cared for her. Maggie kept us posted as to her status. Her family gathered around her. Technicians took x-rays and MRI’s and CAT scans. All those connections. All that love.You could feel the tension amongst those of us waiting here in the office as we continued working while wondering how Lina was doing. I was thrilled when Julie called looking for a ride back to the office from the hospital for then I too became one of the 72 labors! We were connected in our humanity. And it served as a good reminder of what our patients experience from us as caregivers.
What we forget to remember is that “we are in the perpetual care of others.” I looked up the definition of “perpetual.” It means “never ending or changing, occurring repeatedly, so frequent as to seem endless and uninterrupted.” We are not independent. We are in the perpetual care of one another. We are interdependent. We are givers and we are receivers. We can’t be one without the other. Perhaps in giving we heal ourselves and in receiving we heal others. Or maybe it’s the other way around?
I invite you to pause today to think through the 72 or 32 or 18 labors of something or someone you take for granted. Maybe it’s the water coming out of your tap, or the road you drove into work on today or the medication that keeps a loved one well. Whatever it is, remember that we have much to be grateful for within all of our daily connections, no matter how mundane they may appear. Let us give thanks for the opportunity to give to one another and to receive from one another. May we continue to offer perpetual care for one another, for ourselves, and for our patients. And may Lina recover completely from her vertigo. Amen