April 15, 2020
Have you ever wondered what type of superhero you’d be if you were suddenly empowered with some super ability? I have! And I already posses my super power in abundance!!!! No it’s not invisibility or super strength. Those are cool and all! I mean who wouldn’t want to be a Superman or Wonder Woman?!?!? I don’t mind those types of super powers, I guess they’re ok if that’s all you got! However!!! I’ve got a superpower no amount of kryptonite can weaken: The Power to Be Awkward in Any Given Situation!!!!! I know, looking at me you might think to yourself “hey, that guy looks like one of the cool kids!” Sure, I’ve got the look but it’s mostly a disguise, like Clark Kent’s glasses and slicked back hair! But one quick twirl or blink of an eye POOF!!!! AWKWARDO IS HERE!!!!!!
I’ve always been awkward. I’ve never really had a lot of self-confidence when it comes to socializing, friend making, dating, or any interpersonal relationship that requires tact or grace. Everything I’m able to accomplish now that remotely resembles a functioning adult is carefully crafted appearance and general miming of what I see others do! I have no idea what I’m doing!!!!
Once in while I trip over success. I’ll have a good day that on the surface looks like I’ve got all my ducks in a row. Truth is, I don’t even know what my ducks look like let alone where my pond is! Most of the time I’m just tripping across my own awkwardness hoping nobody looks to closely at just how awkward I really am!
I know you’ve seen it! It comes in the form of a misplaced joke, a glance that lasts two seconds too long and becomes a stare, or the inevitable “you too” when the teenager at McDonald’s says “enjoy your meal.” Ugh! The worst is when I get angry or frustrated and I forget how to speak English. This is where Awkwardo shines!!! Not only do I forget how to form words but my hillbilly East Tennessee accent gets mixed in and nothing sound remotely intelligible. Mix in an ungodly amount of useless trivia, song lyrics, and movie quotes from the 90’s and you’ve got one heck of a recipe for AWKWARDO to appear!
I’m only half kidding. But I’ve noticed lately that my anxiety levels are higher than normal. That means my self critique is also higher! Every night it seems I relive most of the day’s work calls and conversations. Did I say something stupid to that caregiver? Was my hair out of place during that zoom? Did I sound like an idiot when trying to explain myself to everyone on that call? Can they see my nose hairs? Do I really sound like that?
My other super power is that of empathy. I am an empath. That simply means I can read the energy of those around me. I literally FEEL you! I can read a room and know almost instantly and intuitively how everyone else is experiencing the moment. This means if the room tends to be anxious I can become distracted and let my reactivity dictate my behavior. If the room is peaceful and calm, I will reflect stillness. It all depends, like I wrote yesterday, on how integrated I am at the moment with the truth. What this means is it’s easy for to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the world around me.
It is exhausting to have so much feeling all the time. Sometimes, it takes a lot of determined concentration to distinguish between my feelings and those of others I’ve encountered during the day. When you work with death and dying as much as we do, the temptation to carry another’s grief with us and add it to our own is huge! It almost feel callous and uncaring to leave their baggage and their troubles and their stress there in the room and not carry it home mixed in with our own mess.
This super power of caring is why each and every one of you show up everyday and exemplify our CRRITER values. Each of you excel at Compassion, Balance, Respect, Integrity, Teamwork, Excellence and Resilience! These values indelibly mark your work. You are the standard bearer for quality end of life care!!! And that my friend, is your superpower! And, that my dear sweet friend, is your (our) kryptonite! We have such a strong commitment to our service to the most vulnerable in our community that sometimes we reach too far, dive too deeply, hold on to too much of what others are experiencing. We cannot distinguish our grief from the grief of our patients and families. This is why we experience caregiver compassion fatigue. Are hands are smaller than we thought, our skins are thinner than we imagined; our hearts are fleshy and vulnerable and easily broken.
Jewish religious leaders have a tradition where scholars of the Hebrew scriptures write commentary on sacred texts and laws. The collection of these writings is called the Talmud. One scholar wrote this in regards to the Hebrew text of Micah 6:8: "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief. Do justly now, love mercy now, walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.” The original Hebrew text asks of the reader “What does the Lord require of you?” We ask ourselves this every day! What does today require of me? How much of myself must I invest for the well-being of all others in the room? Quickly, the enormity of the need around us surpasses the grasp of our hands and we stumble, weaken, and eventually break under the pressure. The Talmud, however, does not interpret this text to say “give all of yourself as a sacrifice to the needs of another.” Instead, the Talmud implores us to “walk humbly, now”, “do justly, now”, “love mercy, now” We are not expected to complete the work alone nor are we expected to complete the work fully in our lifetime.
We are not free to ignore the grief around us. We are not capable of even trying. But we must remember that it is not our burden to bear alone. It is an enormous thing to feel another’s pain. It is a burden that must be born together in community, in solidarity not solitude. You have an immeasurable gift at your disposal in the colleagues who join your ranks of super heroes, a sort of Justice League if you will of empaths who will help you carry the enormity of the world’s grief and eventually, help you set it down so your hands are free to attend to your own.
I leave you with these words from theologian Frederick Buechner: “Wherever people love each other and are true to each other and take risks for each other, God is with them and they are doing God’s will.” There are no other people I’d like to love and take risks with or be awkward with than all y’all!
Love and Light!