There is a spiritual practice of holding a place for another person. Somehow, sometimes we understand that we will be knowing another person for just a short amount of time. Not forever, just for now. In our knowing of them, we come to understand that we will never really hear all of what happened before we met them and will not be with them to know how their lives end up. These times when it mattered that all we could do was what is right in front of us. Just for this precious time and place. Just for this holy and finite time and place.
Not long ago we spent some time in a little Air B’n B by a river. Watching a river is peaceful and hypnotizing. You can witness the river’s power. Where we were staying, we were told that only a few weeks before, this river had swept past its bank and risen 15 feet or more. Peaceful. Powerful. Both/and.
Rivers bring wisdom and are powerful teachers of life’s lessons. The place where we stayed had a carved sign that spoke to some of the lessons: “Advice from a river - go with the flow, choose to chance the rapids, go around obstacles, be thoughtful of those downstream, slow down and meander, stay current, the beauty is in the journey.”
As I was sitting and watching the river, listening for the sound of the water passing by, I felt the river’s energy moving by me. I was reminded of a life lesson I received back during the time I was working in hospice. One piece I remember from those days as chaplain for those patients and their families was the preciousness of time. Our team wasn’t given long sometimes to get to know the folks and to offer help and support. Just a short, precious amount of time. Working now in a Children’s Hospital, I am often mindful of that same truth. Life is precious. We have what is in front of us each day. The past has happened before with that child and her family. Their future will continue after they have left and journeyed on. What we have is what is in front of us.
My image is standing on a dock of a peaceful river. When I have the privilege of meeting a patient and his family, I know that this will be but a short amount of time in the chapter of this family’s life. When the boat in front of this imaginary dock, this family is seeking shelter and rest, comfort and encouragement. When the boat is there tied up to this imaginary dock, we can hear stories, we can laugh and cry. We can offer what will nourish and sustain each person. For a short, precious amount of time I/we can offer ourselves and our gifts. Not forever, but for now.
When they are rested and ready to move on, they push off and continue on downriver. We will never know or understand or have any control over what happened to that patient and her family before we met them, upstream. All we know about is what we shared in the time we had together. Right here. Right now, while they were there at the dock. And we will never know or have any control over what happens as they continue on downriver.
We just do what is before us. Each hour of each day. We care for those we care for. We love who we love for the time they are there at the end of the dock. Not forever, just for now.