While waiting in Atlanta for his flight to San Francisco, a colleague of mine, Vic Dippenaar, sat down in the waiting lounge to nurture patience in the pages of a book. He raised in front of his eyes David Richo’s book, How to Be an Adult, and began reviewing the chapters. Vic, the director of our Clinical Pastoral Education program here at UAB Hospital, uses the book in teaching young adults how to be chaplains. After a few minutes of perusing the chapters, he sensed someone looking at him. He raised his eyes and looked across the top of the book.
Opposite sat a very large, muscular man with a shaved head. The man made eye contact with Vic, looked directly at the book’s title, then with raised eyebrows looked back at Vic and tilted his head to one side. It was an unspoken question: “Really? You need instruction on that?” Or perhaps his silent query was, “So, is this the how-to manual I’ve been looking for?”
Well, I don’t know about you, but I can think of many interactions with folks in my personal and professional life which left me wishing they’d read a “how-to” manual on maturity.
David Richo wrote How to Be an Adult in 1991 and followed up with another one entitled, How to Be an Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving in 2002. They’re both excellent books and if people were to embrace what Richo describes, I’m certain they’d improve the quality of their individual lives. For my money, though, the “Five Keys” Richo talks about in both books also describe what it means to be a healing community.
Frequently in this blog I’ve spoken the phrase I first heard from Mark Hyman, the director of the Functional Medical Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. In an interview he said, “Community is medicine.” I’ve repeated that phrase frequently because its wisdom lies at the heart of what we do in pastoral care. As our society suffers increasingly from the Epidemic of Loneliness, we need to unpack, examine, and absorb the powerful healing effects of living in an embracing and loving community.
Not just any conglomeration of human beings can weave healing community, however. Despite what we’ve seen on television and in movies, healthy community isn’t likely to happen in a tavern at 3 a.m. Oh, yes, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and their colleagues often met at a (now) famous tavern in Oxford, and from those conversations produced some amazing literature. Those guys, however, met regularly elsewhere, too, shared professional lives, and in some cases worshipped together at an altar other than the Guinness tap. Their healing community – as any healing community – included some essential dynamics which Richo describes as “The Five A’s.” Here they are with my commentary regarding how they characterize a healthy community:
- Attention. In a healthy community, people pay attention to each other. They observe, listen, and notice things. They see more than their own interest and can forget what they saw in the mirror that morning.
- Acceptance. In a healthy community, people accept each other, having suspended judgment and refused to exert evaluations on the other(s).
- Appreciation. A healthy community recognizes and celebrates each individual’s gifts, passions, longings, and limitations.
- Affection. In a healthy community people express their love and appreciation for each other through words and appropriate touch.
- Allow. A healthy community provides avenues of expression where each individual’s gifts, passions, longings, and limitations can be embraced, mobilized, met, and, expanded, as Richo says, “with all their ecstasy and ache, without trying to take control.”
Here’s another reason why we counsel the organization of support teams for our friends who’ve been patients at our hospital. When folks have taken the initiative to remove the randomness from their efforts of compassion, they pay attention to whether or not they’re practicing the wisdom of the Five A’s, whatever they’d call them. In fact, it occurs to me that the whole process of weaving healing community begins with paying attention, with recognizing the world’s incredible pain. Many of us have the impulse to look away when we run across bleeding wounds . . .
. . . others, however, those who make a difference, refuse to divert their attention. They notice, then they bury their denial. They embrace the humans in front of them as worthy of good effort and then give them the freedom to grow in the Grace of the One who calls us all to healing and wholeness.
That’s the essence of a Support Team.
By the way, if you’re interested to learn more about David Richo, click here for a link to his website.