Hospitals and Being Ourselves

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I spent last Sunday at the hospital. I woke up with back pain so bad I could barely manage to get out of bed. When I did, after complicated gymnastics that would have been hilarious if they hadn’t hurt so bad, I almost blacked out. After calling 911, I couldn’t even manage to be charming to the ambulance attendants or chat with fellow patients. I only have vague memories of my day, of scans and injections. What I do remember is my conversation with the doctor as she began to discharge me ten hours later. She asked if I had anyone at home who could care for me over the next few days and when I shook my head, she exclaimed oh no.  She tried to backtrack when I started to cry, but it was all true. 

Of course, I had a friend I could call to take me home. I texted other people to be on standby in case I needed anything and they all responded instantly. People have sent me food and I’ve had lovely conversations and phone calls with others. I have felt supported and loved. Yet the fact is that last night at 4am when I realized I needed to switch beds in a desperate attempt to stop the pain so I could sleep, it was just me, all alone, grimacing down the hallway, hands full of bed linens. 

I like my life of fierce independence. I like doing what I want when I want. But the truth of it is that at 4 am, and at all other moments in our lives, we are social beings and we really and truly need each other. 

In fact, the 4am moments are probably the exceptions. Those are the givens, the times when we all agree that yes, someone else would probably be nice to have around to carry the blankets, make the bed, and provide an arm to lean on. What I am learning is that we actually need each other all the time in order to most fully be who we are, because that fullness is being in relationship with one another. Everything else is an illusion. 

Over the last year, I stopped trying to understand myself by myself.  I let go of the enneagram, of MBTI, of Buzzfeed quizzes, of anything else that defines me as unique and special against other people. Instead, I’ve been spending time talking to strangers, listening to groups of people tell me about conflict and peace, talking to protestors, reading people I don’t agree with, and concentrating on the relationships I hold with others. The irony, or perhaps more accurately, the great joy of it all, is that I’ve never felt more like myself. And all I do is show up, ready to be transformed, ready to change my mind, and I leave, more myself. 

I have hesitated a long time about whether I want to wade into the mess that is my university’s, Trinity Western University, decision to deny the student group OneTWU permission to host an event on campus to feature LGBTQI voices and perspectives. I don’t want to be part of throwing talking points across the divide at each other. I do want to honour, however, the values that were reaffirmed for me during my time at TWU, especially during my interactions with many professors and students: of listening, of curiosity, of openness to different viewpoints; of critical thinking. It was at TWU, thanks to my gender studies minor and thousands of conversations, that I changed my own mind around gay rights and identity. 

I left university with the joy of living in the questions rather than answers, the hallmark of a good education, and have continued in that space ever since. While the ability to be human in relationship to other humans is something my work and personal life have reinforced over the years, it was at TWU that I received a foundational grounding that set me free to outgrow the university itself. 

This is exactly why I question the decision to not allow this OneTWU event. We are only ourselves in relationship to others; to not allow some voices because they are different is to not actually hold to what I learned and to what we all need, which is each other, in all our differences.  

I can’t say it better than my friend, colleague, and fellow TWU alum Scott Campbell.  Scott is one of the people that I have learned a great deal about being human from through conversations in the last few years. Here are his words: 

“In an age where polarization is rampant, and society’s tolerance of difference is thin, faith-based institutions should be bringing people together, moderating difficult conversations, inviting us to recognize our shared humanity, and nurturing love.

I will forever be associated with this school. It’s part of my educational and professional history. And while I recognize that such an association can feel like a liability, I can’t bring myself to scrub TWU from my LinkedIn profile. The reason is this: I believe it’s necessary that alumni, students, and current and former staff take actions demonstrating that living by faith can look very different than what the university administration espouses. There are many of us associated with this school who choose to live for reconciliation, unity, and love.” 

It is not because we are the same that we need each other. It is because we are different. This isn’t a plea for false unity. Rather, it is an invitation to keep living inside the questions that are our relationships with each other, now and not only when we break our backs, because it is only that space that will allow us to be transformed most fully into ourselves.  It’s beautiful, challenging, interesting work that will take a lifetime.

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