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Soft Heart

I am going to keep this short and sweet. I debated whether or not I should even post this week. The last six days I have spent most of my time in a hospital room with my dad who has been struggling with COPD for many years. I was sure I would have no inspiration to share with you this week. But this is what came to me.

I read a quote recently that said, “Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.” I nodded my head in agreement and said a little amen when I read that quote. I may have even pinned it to my Pinterest board. But as I sit in this room watching my dad struggle to breath, I am not sure I can fully agree with that statement anymore. I know he is suffering. I’m not sure how much of an option he has.

The strange thing is that even as he suffers, I do not feel any anger in him. He is not angry at the world. He is not angry at himself or others. He is not angry at God. He accepts his reality as hard as it is. He teaches me that if anything is optional, perhaps it’s bitterness.

I know there are things he wishes had been different. He wishes he hadn’t smoked for 30 years before I came home from my high school health class and begged him to stop. There is nothing he can do about those 30 years now. The past is the past. He lets it go.

He wishes he hadn’t worked in chemicals on the railroad for most of his life breathing in asbestos, fumes, and sand every day. But he didn’t know better at the time. We can’t do better if we don’t know better. He lets it go.

He wishes he hadn’t contracted tuberculosis when he was five years old, the same tuberculosis that ultimately took his dad’s life, but he knows better than to blame himself or anyone else for that. He lets it go.

He doesn’t dwell on things he cannot change, and he certainly cannot change the past. He simply accepts what is in front of him and deals with it moment by moment by moment.

Even in sickness my dad teaches me so much about life. If he can let go of all of that, if he can live in the moment and face each challenge as it comes the best that he can, if he can still be kind to others in the midst of his pain, surely I can do the same.

Kurt Vonnegut has been attributed with saying, “Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness.”

I don’t know what will happen with my dad from here, but I do know this. When my dad dies, he will die with a soft heart, a heart still comforted by the presence of God, a heart filled with love and compassion for others, a heart empty of bitterness at his plight. I simply cannot imagine a greater accomplishment anyone could make in this lifetime than that.

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