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Neuhoff Musings

Reflections on Life, Now

By Theresa Bennett Luby, UD Alumna and retired hospice chaplain


Date published: April 1, 2020

rosaryI am remembering a scene from a book called Autobiography of A Face, by Lucy Grealy. The author had childhood cancer and had a third of her jaw removed. She wrote: “I suffered for five years with cancer, but since then I’ve spent fifteen years being treated for nothing other than looking different from everyone else.” It is a story of enormous suffering, but also self-awareness and hope.

In the scene I’m remembering, Lucy is in a bathroom stall at school, hiding from the other kids who are taunting her, and she reads these words, graffiti scratched into the paint of the stall: “Be Here Now.” It is a prayer for her. She wants God to show up in her life, and at the same time it is a challenge to her (if you will, God praying to her) “Lucy, Be Here Now.” 

I repeat those three words often to myself. It’s hard to show up in your own life. I realized this week that with the rapidly changing reality of the COVID-19 virus, all plans were ephemeral. As if that wasn’t always the case!

But, while we live, we plan. (One wag wrote, “People always plan for more living than they have time for.”) Planning and thinking about the future are just more ways to avoid “being here now.”

Unable to escape by planning for the future, or lose myself in busy work to distract, I am sitting with my own feelings more. I am trying to respond to the voice of the Lord, who is calling in the midst of this experience to “Be still and know that I am God.” That’s the invitation of Sabbath, I believe. To trust more, that I don’t create the world and hold it in existence. To let God be God.

In many ways I feel that retiring prepared me somewhat for this lacuna. When I heard that people were being “advised to self-isolate” and then “ordered to go home and stay there,” I realized that I had no commitments that I had to keep, no responsibilities and no one who was expecting me to “do” anything, or show up anywhere. It made me feel a little guilty--being so free; but also insignificant, a feeling that the world could and would go on without me. I have come to the realization that I am not EVERYTHING, and I am not NOTHING. I want to be the right size, to belong and contribute my unique part, and recognize that even this seemingly “empty” time is a moment of grace.

In my learnings from my patients in hospice, many of them reported a similar feeling as their illness progressed and they were close to the end. They withdrew from their lives and detached from responsibilities, burdens and also, relationships. They wanted desperately to know that their lives had made a difference, at the same time they felt that a window was closing, and nothing they would do or say now mattered anymore. I think that this experience had the virtue of helping them to gain perspective, to experience a kind of humility, maybe being “the right size” for some folks, for the first time in their lives. They were not everything, and they were not nothing, they were a part of...      That’s what I hope for. 

What did the Buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor?

“Make me One with Everything.”

I now have a new answer to Mary Oliver’s poignant question: “What will you do with your one, wild and precious life?” Answer: “Be Here Now and WASH MY HANDS.”

Thanks for listening to me.


 [Theresa Bennett Luby, BA, ’75; STL, retired recently after a thirty year career as a hospice chaplain. She is a UD graduate and former adjunct faculty member of the IRPS (predecessor to the NSOM). She has extensive experience in parish ministry, retreat design and leadership, and pastoral care.]

 

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