May 5, 2020
When I was a young my father tried, to his chagrin and deep disappointment, to teach me how to fish. It went something like this: Ok son, the first lesson baiting your hook with these earthworms…Why are you crying? It’s just a worm…it can’t bite you…Ok, so plastic worms it is! Then, casting…it’s literally just flicking the wrist and moving your thumb…you can do this…ok, hang on to it…why is your pole in the lake, we’ll try again…and again…ok, now reel it in, nice and slow…don’t let it drop to the bottom…well now I have to cut the line off…Ok well, bobbers it is…wait, don’t be impatient…when it goes under pull back hard…Ok…that’s a hook in your leg, it’s ok, it’ll come out! Let me get my plyers…see, isn’t this fun!!!!!
It was NOT fun…What was fun was throwing rocks into the lake. I loved throwing rocks and watching the ripples flow out from where they hit the water. I loved to count the rings, guessing how far they would reach out there in lake. I learned the bigger the rocks the larger the ripples and the louder the “plop”. Stop that, my father would say, you’re scaring off the fish! I didn’t care. It’s not like you’ve caught anything anyway…we’ve been here for hours…
So, I’ll never be a fisherman. But I’ll never forget the lessons my father tried to teach me on those cold mornings. While I never got the lesson he thought he was teaching, I did learn a lot about love and how it feels to be withheld. I learned not to get in the way, not to disturb the peace with what I needed, and never, under any circumstances, be clumsy, unsure, or scared. The ripples of those lessons still wake against my heart.
Long ago I received some wisdom about how to be a good chaplain. I was told “they won’t always remember what you say, but they will always remember how you make them feel.” I carry this wisdom with me into every care encounter. Every word is purposefully crafted to ensure that every ripple that comes from their speaking has an uplifting and encouraging effect. I never want a care receiver to leave an encounter with me feeling anything but love, acceptance, and positive regard.
How we treat others is more than a singular event. Every encounter we have with another is like throwing pebbles into a placid lake. They plop, they sink, they disturb. They sit there on the bottom of the lake forever. Our words and our attitude towards others are forever felt, like ripples crossing the lake and crashing into the bank. Whether our words bring healing or harm is up to us. Every crashing wave will either be a refreshing, uplifting spreading of hope or an overwhelming deluge of pain.
Christian theologian Frederick Buechner wrote “The life I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or what far place my touch will be felt.” For good or for ill, everything I do will tremble into the world around me. Years ago my father caused grief that I live with every day. Along the way, goodness and kindness has also plopped into my life. Those ripples continue out as well and I am surrounded by waves of grief and waves of healing, waves of angst and waves of peace.
It's up to me to decide, with every encounter, with every touch, with every word, which wave I will surf. It’s up to me to decide which waves will wash over every one I encounter. I may not have created the waves but I can decide which ones to ride.
We, like placid waters in a lake, are powerless to resist the rocks thrown at us. Sometimes pain comes our way. Sometimes healing stones plop unexpectedly in. Regardless, you and I have the power to affect far off places with just a touch of kindness. Be gentle. Be loving. Be kind. It may be the one thing that makes the difference between waves of pain and waves of peace.
Love and Light!