13 July 2019

Timely Aid

Recently I had an appointment with a physical therapist. I had injuries my shoulder in some mysterious way back in February. I gave it the usual 4-6 weeks to get better; and, when it was still nagging at me, went to the doctor. After doing an assessment, she agreed that physical therapy was the next step. 

The earliest appointment was several weeks out; so, by the time I was actually seen it had been four months since the initial injury.

Now, throughout this time, I was able to do everything I wanted to. The pain was very minor, if annoying. I could still lift heavy things, knit for extended periods of time, and do all of my normal actives without having to take pain medication. So part of me wondered if I was wasting the physical therapists time. 

During my appointment, the therapist assessed my relative arm strength and movement and told me what she discovered. Even thought I hadn't felt like there had been any impact in my strength and mobility. She, from her perspective, could see several physical signs of injury. I had both more limited mobility and more restricted range of motion in my injured arm than in my healthy arm.

I was honestly surprised.

The main reason I had followed up with the doctor and therapist about the injury was because I have had friends who have suffered permanent damage to joints because they didn't get help early on after an injury. Either due to lack of insurance, or because their doctors didn't take their complaint seriously at the time.

I was glad I had followed up. It was apparently the type of injury that could lead to long term issues. By dealing with it promptly the therapist said she was very optimistic that the injury would heal if I kept up on the exercises she prescribed. 

This got me thinking about how important help and support can be in life in general. Even though I could tell I was injured, it took consulting with professionals to help truly assess the scope of the injury. I couldn't do it alone, even though I was the one feeling the pain.

Getting help early in the process may have saved me from needing much more extensive intervention later. Getting help before new, bad, habits had locked in place is allowing me to treat the problem with simple exercise. Getting help from an experienced practitioner allowed me to piggyback on their training and life experience and learn a lot in a very short time. 

I think our culture can encourage 'going it alone' more than is healthy. Not only are there are many things that we can't solve on our own, there are things we can't even correctly diagnose on our own.

Help at the right time can prevent catastrophic.

Help from the right person can pin-point a problem.

Help of the right type can provide healing.

Requests for help are spread throughout the Book of Common Prayer. Sometimes we ask for direct help for ourselves, sometimes we ask for strength to help others. Help is shown as merciful and joyful. It can be a shield protecting us, or it can embolden us to fight for others.

Help is powerful.

01 July 2019

Death in Life

One of the quotes that has stayed with me from Neil Gaiman's fictional work, "The Sandman," is said by the character Death when she is going about her work in the mortal world:

"You get what everyone gets, a lifetime."

Mr. Gaiman's version of death manifests not as the scythe-wielding, cloak-enshrouded apparition common in many movies and books; but as a young woman into the goth scene. From what I remember of the series she is also a fairly compassionate incarnation of Death which was an interesting twist back when the Sandman comic came out in the late 1980's-early 1990's.

Death has been on my mind a fair bit for the past few weeks, as a priest who was colleague of my mom's, and who presided at her funeral, died recently and I was able to attend his funeral.

I didn't know him well but I felt that I should attend the funeral if I could, for two reasons. First, because if Mom were still alive she would have gone. Her relationship with both the priest and the church he served was important to her and was one of the reasons she asked him to do her funeral. Second, because he provided me with un-looked-for, but very welcome, support at the end of Mom's life and especially between the time she died and the time of her funeral. 

At his funeral, both of the people who spoke commented on how good he was a being a priest. My own experience matched that. When I called him to tell him Mom had died, he was in the hospital himself getting treatment. To some extent, he and mom were partners in this. Both had serious illnesses and were facing the fact that it was more a matter of when, than if they would die.  One of the things mom talked about as she got too weak to leave the house was her disappointment knowing she would not be here to support her, much younger, colleague as he faced his own illness.

For his part, when he and I met to discuss the service plan that mom had drawn up and to work out all of the logistics for her funeral, he took the time to ask me how I was doing. He let me talk about my feelings and asked some very good questions that were very helpful, not just during our meeting, but for me to take forward as I adjusted to life without Mom. In that meeting, he was everything a priest should be: welcoming, compassionate, practical, and even a bit funny. It helped that he had known Mom well and that both he and she shared some of the same memories of the congregation they had both served at different times.

While I sat in the sanctuary listening to the prelude, I read his obituary and was startled to learn that he was several months younger than I was. Part of that might be that I am still young enough that I tend to assume that people in roles such as doctor, dentist, lawyer, or priest are automatically older than I am. I know that part of it was that, even then, his illness made him seem more frail and therefore older than his years.

But a big part of it was the wisdom and compassion he demonstrated to me. Even though he was visibly ill, even though he was dealing with his own medical issues. Even though he was dealing with the stress of trying to be present for his congregation while dealing with his own issues. He took a slice of time that I expected to just be a meeting about logistics and turned it into a time for me to process my own feelings, for the two of us to share a few stories about my mom, and by doing that he gave me peace that I didn't know I needed until he offered it.

His lifetime measured in years was short, but, from my experience of him, he certainly lived into both it and his vocation.

We each get a lifetime, and while we don't get too choose how long it will be, we can choose, to some extent, what to do with it.

I wonder if that is part of what Jesus meant when he said that in losing our life we would save it and in trying to save it we would lose it.  I also wonder if that was what the parable of the talents was really all about-- the idea that it is better to risk and be vulnerable in life than to live in fear that someday we will die.

We all die, so it's how we live that makes the difference, not how long we live.


The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, published between 1989-1996 by DC Comics

Bible citations are from Bible Gateway (NRSV)