Beginning a new work is a hopeful time. I am teaching Spiritual Care this summer at a hospital in Billings, Montana. Of course, I feel hopeful about all the learning that will take place. We are studying cultural humility as a theme for the summer by visiting the Crow and Cheyenne people on their reservations. Seventeen per cent of the hospital’s patient population is Indigenous People. Serving the people here will require a better understanding of their perspectives. Being in relationship ethically takes entering into the worldview of the people one serves. So, a strong desire to get to know people in their own culture is a benefit.
This is a Spiritual DNA trip for me too. My father and his family come from the Crow reservation in Hardin, Montana. After my Dad died, I visited the area once. Coming upon the Little Big Horn Museum, I thought it might be interesting and stopped in. Upon entering, I immediately saw a huge poster-sized photo of my grandfather and my father, who had been black-and-white photographers. I began to cry. My Dad never told me about this museum, if he even knew about it. Here it was, full of his photography of tepees, Crow men and women on horseback, handsome Chiefs, fancy dancers, women in elk-tooth shirts and children dressed in beaded leather clothing. This was the photography of my childhood home; I recognized it. The family logo marked the bottom corner of the enlarged photos adorning the museum walls. The elderly docent came rushing over after seeing me in tears, “Can I help you?” She was alarmed until I explained that it was a shock to see all these photos, especially the one of my grandfather and father, which was new to me. She was excited to see a relative of my grandfather, the mayor of Hardin in his day. She looked up some newspaper clippings about my family. This was part of my last visit to the reservation. Will I learn more about my Dad and my lineage this trip?
I am also in the midst of writing a book about Spiritual Care and stories of patients who are at the end of life. Enjoying the work, I am now rewriting several chapters for my literary agent, so that she can sell the book to a publisher. Several coffeeshops in downtown Billings will be my new workspace, as well as a desk in our little apartment across from the Federal Courthouse. Although I have written chapters in books before, this is my first full-length book.
Thomas Merton has this advice: “Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.”
Merton recalls me to the personal relationships, which will be the heart of my experience in Billings. Ultimately, the meaning of these three months will not be in the work accomplished in teaching, learning and writing. What is written in the heart as we get to know and care for each other is what matters most. There lies the value in what we are making – life together, encounter by encounter.