I’m a doer, I enjoy work. I love to with my hands, my head, my heart. I enjoy the feeling after a workout, though I wouldn’t say I’m an avid fitness fanatic. I don’t mind digging in, and digging deep, into life’s trenches. There’s not a lot of grit and grime that scares me. I’ve never been one afraid to get my hands dirty. I love to go. I love to build. I love to create. I enjoy fumbling around on the piano and guitar. I love to think of new ideas and solutions, and then try to implement them. Likewise, I deeply appreciate the doers of the world, the ones lifting heavy loads and not expecting much in return. The ones who burn hot and fast and carry community with them. The doers in relationships - those who take initiative and bring meals without asking for permission. I admire the doers in the classroom: teachers, professors, coaches and room moms alike. I bless the waste collectors, postmen, bus drivers, cashiers, cooks, waitresses, the doers who make the world go round. I value a strong work ethic and believe showing up is most of the battle.
Remember the Gary Chapman book, The Five Love Languages? My top love language came out “acts of service” - no surprise there. I don’t need diamonds or fancy gifts….I need the carport cleaned out and the clothes put away, and I even love doing it together. But then I need a vacation - from all the work.
Years ago, my friend Kathleen whom I met at the club, was battling loads and loads of trauma. She leapt out of the commercial sex industry after 27 years. She was mentally fragile, having attempted suicide several times since leaving the industry. Physically, she was aging quicker than the norm and was on a lot of antipsychotics. These meds caused her bowels to constantly constrict. She needed surgery and I was the only emergency contact. I dropped her off at the hospital for what seemed to be a routine procedure and an hour later got a call, “You need to get here immediately, something has gone wrong.” I rushed back to the hospital and was taken to a small private room where the chaplain greeted me. “I want you to know that whatever happens to your friend is in God’s hands. Do you need anything that might comfort you during this time?” I’m sure I looked confused, pissed, and judgy.
My mind was reeling. I heard nurses running outside the room mention a “code blue”. I didn’t know what this meant, but intuitively, left Mr. Cliche-Chaplain-Man because he clearly needed better training and I had no time for him. That’s when I saw Kathleen, on a gurney, pale and with a tube down her throat. Doctors and nurses surrounded her and I began crying out to Jesus. All I remember saying is, “God, she can’t go out like this - not like this! She has lived through so much and she just can’t go out like this. Not like THIS!” The nurses said I needed to leave and that they were taking her immediately back to surgery. All I knew is that something had gone horribly wrong, that my friend was near death, and she might not make it.
Kathleen spent 8 days in a medically induced coma, the nights were long and our JSL volunteers rallied and prayed by her bedside. I remember nursing my baby boy Gus to sleep and then heading up to the hospital. Our volunteers sang over her, read Scripture to her, told her stories while she slept and rubbed her hands and feet. We brought Kathleen items from her apartment that smelled like her and took care of her Chihuahua. We “did” as much as we could “do”, no doubt...all the doers showed up in full force.
When they brought her out of the coma, we were made aware that her recovery would be a long one. The doctor had punctured her bowels during the procedure and she was left with a stoma and colostomy bag. This is where your intestines are placed outside of your body for waste, you no longer can use the bathroom naturally. It was heartbreaking and humiliating for Kathleen who had zero family in town - her JSL family and church family were it. It was also a learning curve for me, the sight, the smells, it was a different realm of intimacy for friendship and even family.
A good 8 months later, after she was stable, things were looking okay. But Kathleen mentally and emotionally began to slip. She just wanted peace and no more pain and so on New Year's Eve, she tried to take her life, again. We were able to get her to a trauma center in the DFW area but were first evaluated by a friend and colleague in town. That’s when Dr. Stanford, unlike Mr. Cliche Chaplain Man, sat me down alone and said, “Emily - so how are you taking care of yourself? Your love alone can’t heal Kathleen.” While he was certainly more trained than Mr. Chaplain, I am certain my face still looked confused and judgy.
However, that moment in 2011 is seared into my memory because it called me to awareness. I was asked to quit doing and to take a listen. Because when doing stops, listening begins. I made little space for listening. I was pioneering, building, rallying, carrying and internalizing so much secondary pain that I couldn’t hear clearly.
Listening is key to wisdom. Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr told me at the Silent Retreat, “What you do daily, you do dully, unless you do deeply, which you seldom do.”
Listening is key to “doing deeply”. Listening is about intention and mindfulness. Listening is about presence. Doing deeply is cultivated in silence and solitude. We can busy ourselves with duty and obligation, and our relationships will pay for it. We will resent, retaliate and relate to others with heightened expectations when we haven’t practiced listening. There is medicine for us in the silence. There is a mysterious care that we discover in nothingness and the Caregiver’s name is Love.
The depth to which we listen will be the depth to which we love. So for all of us dutiful doers who are doing so well, slow your roll, slow your scroll, and take a listen. You will learn to work from a deeper place, gathering joy and stamina for what lies ahead.