“Miles to Go”
One of my most cherished poems during this time year, especially during my favorite liturgical season leading up to Christmas, is the one by Robert Frost: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. “Now, what could this possibly do with Curatio and healthcare?” Everything, my friends! Everything!
For many theological reasons, the season of Advent has always triggered in me the nostalgia of Frost and the vivid wintery, quiet, peaceful, beautiful, dark, bleak, yet hopeful paused-scene he paints with his words (I can almost hear the snow fall now!).
For individual and vocational reasons, as a healthcare professional, this poem has come to mean much to me over the years. Why? Because it is an individual and vocational reminder to pause, to be quiet, to be still, to discern, to be prayerful, to be child-like, to be excited, and seek solace in the One who is coming and gives us hope.
Holidays can be challenging for us in this field. Many of us are not able to pause as much as we want to or should because we spend all of our precious energy during this busy time with our adopted-extended family: our patients. Some of us are blessed and given the gift of: being sent home early, working in a clinic that closes, someone comes in to work for us, etc. But with most of us, that is simply not the case, and as hard as it is, we spend our rotational holidays away from the parties and our own loved ones in order to be with ones that need love. And if you are married to a healthcare professional, the coordination is even more complex!
The Church, in Her wisdom, beautifully reminds us of the need for this pause. It really quite fitting, as it is a pause where we engage our senses in very unique ways: fasting, dark/empty sanctuaries, prayer, silence, and the Sacramental box of mercy where Our Lord touches our soul. I would advocate that this pause should be beloved and reflected upon in a deeper way by healthcare professionals. Especially as the holidays are approaching, the realization of the sacrifice made for our vocation to love, serve, and care for others becomes very, very real.
We spend so much of our day gearing all of our bodily senses and soul towards caring for others – others that are currently living their own kind of Advent: awaiting the coming of healing, the coming of cure, the coming of pain-relief, the coming of love, the coming of compassion, the coming of mercy, and literally the coming of Our Lord as they take their last breaths. For us, one would say we live within our patient’s world of this type of Advent everyday, so that their waiting is comforted and their burden is made light. And despite the long and dark days of waiting with them, we are presently reminded of the Lord’s message that one day He really is coming and await with anticipated joy, bringing it to those we encounter at the bedside or the clinic.
Hence, the perfect time for reminders of how to give more within the vocation that God has called us to endure for the sake of being with His children who are in need of hope and redemption.
So, here is my heartfelt reflection on how healthcare professionals should enter the season and prepare, not just your hearts, but your patients’ hearts during Advent. For the One coming not only relieves our patients’ pain and illness, but ours as well. Let us stop and pause to admire the message of the poet, Advent, the Magi, and the coming Nativity, for ourselves and for our patients.
For in the present strange beauty of this darkness, whether it be the darkness of the season or the darkness we see in the eyes of our suffering patient, there is always a glimmer of joy, peace, and hope. In this mysterious and yet beautiful darkness, we have been given the gift of caring eyes to see with the light Faith in that long distant farmhouse-stable window; are called to point the way (guided by the Heavenly Star), helping others through their cross-like woods filled with the deep snow of pain and suffering; and assist them to that distant Village in the Heavens. Like the man in the poem, he will not see us stop doing what we have been called to do: missionary vessels of hope, bringing people close to His heart; and people, like the horse, will think us strange, because of the many times we are apart from family, friends, and events because we feel more called to be with those that yearn for our Lord’s care and support through our witness and love. Indeed, there is no mistake, we can be there the moment when all seems lost, dreary, bleak, and quiet, as if no prayers are ever answered – as we do have promises to keep. Promises from Our Lord that we must make known to them by our faithful presence and continue to walk and be with them, as they have their own journey of needed healing with “miles to go before [they] sleep, miles to go before [they] sleep. “And so, we travel with them, at times growing weary, but yet always growing stronger in glowing love; and we do not rest until they are at peace. It is a beautiful and mysterious vocation – that of the healthcare professional:
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
By Robert Frost
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I hope and pray that this reminds you to rest or pause, encourages and gives you strength, allows you to give gratitude, express unbelievable humility for what we are tasked with, and finally, to further Curatio’s mission through the quiet, thrilling whispers of one of the most beautiful of liturgical seasons. Despite its darkness and bleak appearance, there is yet a child-like excitement, anticipation, and promise of hope. This is what we are to bring to our patients!
Let us not, however, forget about our own spiritual needs, so that we can go back out and be missionaries of hope all over again! So, as that as the waning winter light bids us flee the bitter cold, and we rush to light a fire in the sanctuary of our homes, may this Advent be a time to for us to enter into the sanctuary of our souls, stoking the fires of our hearts through repentance and prayer, cleaning out the cobwebs in preparation for the Birth of Our Lord: “Veni, Veni, Emanuel….Gaude!”
A blessed and prayerful Advent and Christmas to you all!