Things we have left undone . . .
I just came back from a terrific weekend teaching at the International Women’s Writing Guild 2013 Conference, held at Drew University. The women I met were wonderful, and dedicated to writing.
So that was good — as were the classes and the writing and the discoveries we made in our work and the new friendships made, the old ones renewed.
Still, I came away feeling as I always do after these things — a little worried I missed someone, or didn’t give all my students what they needed, or inadvertently said something thoughtless that might have harmed an emerging writer (as someone did to me years ago), or that I couldn’t give everyone the attention they deserved.
You know . . . as if I could have done more.
Then, this morning as I did my wee bit of contemplation and meditation, I read from a book (a very good book), called, GOD WITHOUT GOD, Western Spirituality without the wrathful king by Michael Hampson. I read the chapter on ethics, which ends this way:
“And the final guilty fear is that we could have done more . . . fed more of the hungry, tended more of the sick. . . Once again Jesus is our example, for sometimes even he would walk away. In the very first chapter of Saint Mark, they lay out the sick in the streets for him, but he has already gone into the hills alone to pray. They call him back, to attend to the sick, but he refuses, and presses on to the next town instead. Sometimes we have other responsibilities, sometimes we just need to be alone; our finite, failing Jesus is our example, our salvation, and our God.”
And, to me, what this means is that even someone like Jesus, who — no matter what your religious beliefs, including atheism — seems like the sort of guy who tried to do his very best all the time, still didn’t manage to please all the people all the time, or heal everyone and he understands what it feels like to fail at doing good. Having done the same thing — albeit for good reason — he recognizes human failings, the impossibility of doing everything for everyone, and yet he as soon as he could, he did what he could, and that, I believe, is what we’re asked to do for each other.
I think it also points to the possibility that we might have faith, as Jesus did in that moment when he had to leave behind some of the sick in suffering to take care of other things, that if we can’t get everything done, can’t fix every broken person, heal every wound, feed all the hungry, perhaps something greater than ourselves, some “ground of all being and sum of all divinity whose nature is infinite compassion” (as Hampson defines God, and a darn good definition is its, too), will step in with His/Her infinite mercy and make things right, while having compassion for our limitations.
Just for today, I’m going to trust that. I’ll do as much as I can, and leave the rest to that ground of all being, sum of all divinity, whose nature is infinite compassion.
Your comments about sharing your writing and experiences with the guests at the International Women’s Writing Guild 2013 Conference were so thoughtful. Thank you for sharing them. Your interpretation of the quote from the book, “God Without God” is a concept I’ve considered also, especially during my years as an RN in Critical Care units.
I realized early in my career, there would always be more I could do, ad infinitum. But my actions, if done with kindness, skill and compassion to my own limits, were my best, at the time, given the circumstances. To look back with doubts was not productive, as the past events would never be repeated.
As with any kindnesses or compassionate acts of sharing, if there is always appreciation of our won limitations, we can eliminate a sense of not doing enough. If we do our best, it is enough.
I’ve noted the title of this book by Michael Hampson and as I am going to a library today, will see if it is on the shelf there. Sounds like a book which will challenge my philosophical outlook.
Thank you for your words, thoughts and sincerity in this essay today.
Thanks, Wendy. Hope you find the book as interesting as I do.
hi Lauren, thanks for this thoughtful essay. Letting go and trusting some greater power is something I and many others like the idea of, but it’s just not very easy to do. It sounds like you’ve had your own struggles, yet it’s my sense your self-awareness is helping you be less controlling and rely more on your faith. I’m working on it… kind regards, Alison
Like a number of other things in my life, Alison, it’s a one-day-at-a-time kinda thing. Sometimes one minute at a time! Thanks for taking the time to comment. L.