I recently visited with a gentleman in hospice who, until the moment I walked into the room, I had never met before. This is not uncommon, as we are often called to visit family members who may not have any pastoral support available. I had been informed that he was near death and that he wanted to speak with a chaplain. “Near death” means different things sometimes, and I never know what to expect when I enter a room. On this occasion, I walked in to find a man, white-haired and wearing a red and green flannel shirt, sitting up in a bed. The only light in the room was a lamp in the corner and the shades were closed to the door that led to the courtyard. The television was on, but he turned it off as I entered the room. He smiled as I walked into the room, as though he was expecting me. His first words were, “You are younger than I expected,” and I just smiled and thought to myself, if I had a nickel for every time someone said that, I could finally buy my dream farm!
I pulled up a chair next to his bed. He began to share his story. He clutched the homemade quilt on his lap as he told of his childhood, his memories of his parents and his two sisters, his first job, when he met his wife, stories of watching his children grow and take off on their own, what life was like on the farm, the sudden death of his wife, and what life has been like ever since. He laughed and then he cried as stories came to him that it seemed he had not shared in years. I simply gave him the space and the silence for him to share.
There was one thing he said that I have been reflecting on ever since. He said, “You know, I never thought I would be who I am now.”
I let that thought sit for a moment and then asked, “Tell me more about that.”
He continued, “Well, I know that my day is coming…soon. I know there is not much of anything I can do to change who I am or who I have become, but I wish I could go back and change things, you know?” He thought for a moment, tears began to roll from his eyes. As he wiped the away with his hand, he began to reflect on his relationships with his wife, with his children, and with his close friends. He talked about his faith and the realization that it had just been a checklist of “things to do” like going to church and praying before meals. He continued to lament on the person he had become and was filled with sorrow and grief at what could have been.
He said, “I let life happen to me, and now I sit here about to leave so much on the table, asking, ‘What could have been?’”
As I drove home that afternoon, I began to reflect on our conversation. I tried to place myself in his shoes and wonder what it would be like to be in his circumstances.
I’ve heard my dad use the illustration from a Peanuts comic, where Charlie is shooting a bow and arrow. Lucy comes up and asks, “Charlie, how do you always hit the bull’s-eye?” Charlie responds, “It’s easy! I just shoot my arrow at the wall, take my marker up to the arrow and draw my target around it! I never miss!!”
Life can often be lived the same way. We get to the end of life and draw our target around it and say, “I guess this is the person I have become.” But what if we, today, chose to take a different approach to life? What if we intentionally began to discern the question, “Who am I becoming?” To ask this question, you will have to be ready to possibly find some things out about yourself and who you are today that will require a good deal of humility to accept. But we ask this question knowing that who I am today is not who I am going to be tomorrow if I were to chose to live life intentionally.
In your habits, how you invest your free time, your work ethic, your relationships…what kind of person are they producing in you?
Who are you becoming?
At Simmons, one of our visions is that we would be a company that invests in our people and help them reach their full potential. Our chaplains are available for many things, and helping you navigate questions like this is one of them. If this is something you would like to have someone come alongside you and help you process through, we would sure enjoy the opportunity to do so.