On Friday I received an email notifying me that one of my colleagues had suddenly passed away. He was a fellow OBGYN, a father and a friend. He was presumably healthy and not elderly. To say that it was devastating is an understatement. As my phone, my email and my social media sites fill up with questions, comments and memories from colleagues, former coworkers and friends; I was impressed by the themes that ran through this dialogue. Of course there were stories of his work in our field and the lessons he taught us in obstetrics, but more than that almost everyone mentioned his effort to really know you, know your family and be kind to you. To ask how you were doing and to listen and to be honest.
I left work that day having both given and received bad news. I struggled to reconcile all the good in life with the events of the day. That evening was my 20 year high school reunion. Pastor Jason and I met there and I saw faces and heard voices that brought back lots of wonderful memories. Someone who was very dear to me mentioned that she was proud of all I had accomplished and another friend asked me about the meaningfulness of my work. Those words were especially important to me at the moment.
You see, what we do and what we say matters. And I don’t mean in the sense of what our job title is or how many important decisions we get to make. I think it’s more about how we speak and listen to those around us. At work, at home, at church, at the grocery store. Our actions towards our spouse, our children, our friends, our enemies and the least of these among us. Those of you who know me well, or know me at all, understand that I am almost NEVER at a loss for words. I am full of stories I think are charming, opinions I think are correct and ideas I’m sure are fantastic. But over the last few weeks I have felt the spirit move me to really consider what I say and what I do. No gynecology today. Just my own breed of the theology learned being married to the pastor for 15 years now. And here are my thoughts…
- Say “thank you” instead of “sorry to bother.” And mean it. We have become a culture that doesn’t say thank you enough. If we need something that inconveniences another we say “I hate to bother you but…” instead of saying “thank you.” If you say “I’m sorry to bother you” then the other is obligated to say “oh that’s ok” even when it’s not. If you say “thank you so much” to those who take the time to help with your need, you have expressed what you feel and the other owes you nothing in return. Thank you. These two words can change you. They can change people around you. So the next time you need something from someone and they oblige you, don’t apologize for the need, thank the other for the response.
- Tell people you are proud of them. At my reunion my friend Julie looked me square in the eye and said she was proud of me. It was the best moment of the week. It reminded me that my kids need to hear it, Pastor Jason needs to hear it, my friends needs to hear it and I needed to hear it. I am all too guilty of saying “good job” to the residents and students I work with. A job well done is fine but to know that someone is proud of you is not just about the work you have done but the person you have become. Replace as many of your “good jobs” as you can with expressions of pride for those around you.
- Sacrifice for others. Be the kind of person who can be counted on. Whether you tell someone you will pray for them or you ask what someone needs from you, make sure they know you can be counted on. I told one of the church girls that I think when people say “what do you need?” or “how can I help?” we always say “oh nothing” because we assume our need won’t be met. Be the person that meets someone else’s need. The saints in my life are the friends and coworkers who can help out in a pinch; they will make an extra trip to grab something to feed my kid when I’m running behind, they will change their schedule to help me out at work or answer their phone with a willing yes. And if a friend tells you they don’t need anything during a difficult time, don’t believe them. Do something anyway. Show up, bring coffee, watch their kids, feed the dog or just sit and listen. Next time you ask they will be honest with you and grateful you showed up.
- Ask more questions than you give answers. I learned this from the Pastor. When you have a meal with him be prepared not to eat. He will come at you fast and furious with questions. About your work, your kids, your background, your hobbies. You will walk away with value and having shared what is most important to you. It is easy to get caught up in our own daily struggles and achievements that we forget to ask about what is happening in the lives of those around us.
- Care deeply. One of my favorite things to say is “remember the un-squeaky wheel.” Just because someone doesn’t need to be taken care of doesn’t mean they don’t need to be cared for. This is one of my go to soap boxes. But I won’t belabor this one as you can read my previous post on caring deeply here.
- And maybe, most importantly, as Mr Rogers said, love others. Try to drown out the criticism and the anger, the violence and the sadness by loving those around you. It sounds silly I know, but people who are really loved will be people who say thank you, who tell others how proud they are of them, who sacrifice and ask questions and care deeply. Your family, your community, your world will be better for it.
For those who had the opportunity to know my colleague who just passed and the fellow OBGYN we lost to cancer last year, they will tell you that as much medicine and surgery as we learned from these two men, they were people who knew what they said and what they did mattered. And all of us were better for knowing them.