Friday, September 27, 2013

A New Level of Awareness

We are told all the time to "be aware." Be aware of who is walking down the sidewalk with you. Be aware of who might be around you when you unlock the door to your car or home. Be aware of how people are driving around you. Be aware.

There are other times we are told to be aware of our actions, words or behavior. Be aware of how you externally process things before you process them first internally. Be aware of how your dress projects an image you may not want to project. Be aware of how your inability to keep your mouth shut can hurt you. Be aware.

I consider myself a rather sympathetic person who does a good job of being aware of who or what is around me. I like to think of myself as one who walks softly when there is fear or sadness in a room. But I've recently come to realize how totally unaware I can be.

Having reached the age of 40, I now know I am to schedule an annual mammogram. I showed up at the appointed time earlier this month and walked into a waiting room filled with nearly two dozen women. Almost everyone in the room was quiet.  Many women had their faces half covered by a magazine. Others were watching the Cosby Show on the television set. I walked into the room without a care in the world, taking a seat until my name was called, at which point I went to another waiting area where a half a dozen women were seated with a hospital gown replacing whatever shirt or clothing they were wearing. I thought nothing about it. It was a routine appointment for me, and surely for everyone around me as well.

But I went back into that waiting room on Tuesday morning with a different level of awareness. I had been called back after being told the first results were inconclusive. There was something on my left breast, something I found for myself in a matter of moments last Thursday evening. I had spent the weekend planning for the worst, pondering how on earth I would fit in radiation or chemotherapy treatments in an already full schedule, deciding that I'd give up my breasts over my hair in a heartbeat, wondering if my early premonitions of being one who would die young were actually coming true. And, I became totally aware of who was in the room with me on Tuesday morning. I sought to observe every cue around me, taking note of the woman who told the receptionist that nothing had changed with her insurance since she was there last week. I prayed for the woman sitting next to the only man in the room, assuming she needed a partner or a friend to be there for her in the event of receiving challenging news. I looked to see who had eyes that were puffy like mine because we could not contain our tears as we made our way to 21st block of K Street. The room was a completely different place than it was just 13 days before. There was nothing routine about it.

I left the office last Tuesday with a lightness in my step upon hearing the news that I have what the doctor called a "beautiful cyst." But I cannot stop thinking about the other women in that room - or similar rooms where my journey takes me each week.

I've thought a lot about who comes into the room known as the sanctuary on Sunday mornings. Who is here today because they have run out of options or places to turn? Who is here because they are desperate to find shelter for the storms of life? Who is here because the adversity of life is piling too high? Who is here because their spouse left them, their partner cheated on them, their job was eliminated, they've been told they are non-essential, they have recently come out to their parents, the bill collectors keep calling, the house is being foreclosed, the job they really wanted is going to someone else, the promotion did not come through, no one seems to care, a scary diagnosis has just been received, the medical tests are inconclusive, the knot in the breast seems to be growing, the pregnancy test turned out negative again, the third miscarriage has been endured, the child cannot stay out of trouble, and the list goes on. We often assume we know what's happening in the people who are close to us, but rarely do we really know. And we are often surrounded by people who are going through something so challenging that we would quickly change our demeanor towards them if we knew. But we are unaware.

The Cleveland Clinic posted a powerful video about all the scenarios that can be present as one walks through a hospital. The video starts with a Thoreau quote, "Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each other's eyes for an instant?"

I pray each day to be the kind of pastor who not only sees pain but shows up in the pain. I pray our congregation is one that can take note of who is around us, sometimes moving closer to sit next to one who seems alone, is softly crying, or one we know to be going through a challenging time. I pray we will be people who silently pray for the people in the pews with us, understanding that many people return to church or come for the first time because something is missing, or life is just downright hard, or they need real community.

What would it mean for us to look through each other's eyes? What does it look like for us to seek to be aware - not out of a place of fear or self-improvement - but out of a real desire to be fully present in the pain around us?

God, continue to raise my level of awareness.