There are trees that cause us to stop. These acacia trees have hook-like pieces on their branches that unpredictably stick out. You could be walking along, making your way and all of sudden; you become snagged and are forced to stop.
These trees can be helpful companions for grief.
In my work with hospice I spend much of my time listening to stories. Along the way I have been continually reminded of what powerful teachers and healers our stories are for us. I’ve been asked if it ever gets tiring or boring to listen to all these stories. And what is true is that I am learning about myself all along the way.
Recently I met with a man who was telling me about his mother’s death. His story was familiar to me because he and I had been talking for several months. He told me of her diagnosis, his moving to Atlanta, his caring for her until her death, his loss of his home and work, other losses away…and then he stopped. Almost in mid-sentence.
Always before he had continued on from there. He’d gone on to talk about being unsure of what was next for him and about what “his purpose” would be.
But instead this time, he stopped and said, “I’ve told you this a hundred times. You already know all of this.”
And right then I remembered the Wait-a-Bit Tree that I’d heard about when we were on the Maasai Mara.
Stories bring us healing. They companion us and help us hold onto our history. They help us make meaning of where we are and where we’ve been. And sometimes they help guide us into what will be next for us.
We tell our life-stories more than once. These are the stories that hold the moments-that-matter of our lives. Sometimes we have the feeling that we are telling them over and over and over again. But it turns out, that’s just not true. If we pay attention, our story is a living one. If we pay attention there is a time, each time when the story changes. There is a time, each time when we get snagged and we have the opportunity to stop.
And then (perhaps for the first time) we have the opportunity to listen. Deeply listen, to what we are telling ourselves in the story. It is in this place where we are snagged, where we are hooked, that our hearts are doing their most significant healing work. And when grace abounds we are able to stop and listen.
The wait-a-bit tree can remind us that all along the journey there are lessons and gifts. If we march on down the path from here to there and back again, we’ll miss what we are given along the way. And so it would serve us well, each time to wait a bit as we journey through this one precious life. There is healing right there in the midst of our story if we can wait a bit and let our hearts catch up.
(thanks to Rande Allen for the picture)
Working in Family Experience at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta, 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.