Louise Penny is truly a gifted and life-bringing author. She writes wonderful stories about characters who are never-dull, ever-strong that get inside my heart and stay for a while. She weaves incredible ideas into her stories…so often these weavings raise me up and help me stand a little straighter, a little taller.
In The Nature of the Beast she has done it again. Near the end of the book (and I’ll try not to give anything away)…my hero, Armand Gamache is facing an overwhelming task. We are invited in as we watch this character dig deeply into himself to find strength for what he has to do next. With his deep-digging he reminds himself of what is good and kind; he remembers, re-members who he is. Ms. Penny shows us that this is always possible to do. Here in this book, when faced with this impossible event Gamache forces himself to think of the ones he loves. He lists them in his head by name. And then he remembers moments of love – last year’s Christmas dinner, a recent gathering at his friend Clara’s house, walking his dog that morning. And in his reflecting he comes to himself. He re-members himself. And that is enough.
This past week I was visiting with one of our hospice patients. She has come to be very special to me. Her lung disease has brought her to our hospice, but her illness does not tell you much about who she is. This spunky, gracious lady loves Christmas – she and her husband, George have 14 Christmas trees fully decorated throughout their house. She began as an elementary school teacher, and evolved into a Special Education teacher who birthed a vibrant countywide program in the 70’s. She loves taking the Eucharist more than life itself.
When I was visiting with her, I could tell right away that she was having a very hard day. Lying there in her hospital bed that George has turned toward her big picture window, she weakly greeted me. She was using her oxygen on full-throttle and she “just didn’t feel good.” She looked at me with her big, brown eyes and said, “Tell me something good.”
I told her about what I’d read from Louise Penny. I invited her to try it. Soon I listened as she shared names of the people she loved and she knew loved her. Her list sounded long and full, and I listened and listened. And as she shared her list of loved ones, her eyes seemed to grow a little bit clearer. When she stopped to take a drink of water, I asked her to share some of her best memories of the past year. And again, her list went on and on. She started with the Christmas in July party they’d recently had at their house, and her list went on from there.
As she was talking, I was aware – and I think she was, too – of the strength was in her - still...always.
As I go from house to house, room to room I encounter folks who are living while on hospice. As I listen to them, I am reminded that I have no idea what it feels like for them. I can’t begin to even put myself in their shoes. What I can do is walk with them for a bit. And share a word or two of encouragement and hope along the way.
There is strength, wisdom, power that comes to me when I circle back ‘round to this life I have lived, and am living. When I begin to list folks I love and I know love me – those who are living and those who have gone on…when I begin to think of moments that I’ve lived in love, in laughter, in grace…there is enough – more than enough – for the facing of this hour.
Louise Penny reminded me of this strength that I carry with me. Every minute of everyday. I pray that I can practice this spiritual exercise of connection and gratitude the next time I am afraid. I pray that I will remember to re-member. This is not an exercise of simply looking backwards. Instead I believe it is a spiritual practice of looking inward and breathing it deeply in.
Working as a Hospice Chaplain, Lesley is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. A Candler School of Theology graduate, Lesley has just published her second book, Grief and the Psalms: Companioning the Moon for 29 Days (available on this website). She and her partner, Linda Ellis are raising their two sons, Brogan and Sam in Decatur, GA.