I was making a jail break. I had been using a spoon to tunnel through the wall in my cell and it was almost finished. I had a plan. I was one uncomfortable crawl through the sewers to freedom.
I had been working in hospice for two years, not far removed from a previous two year stint at the same job. I was done with pain. I was done with grieving. I was done with midnight drives to strange homes. I had learned what I had to learn and I had given what I had to give.
My plan was to escape all the emotional turmoil – both mine and others – and to move to wine country. Some people fantasized about things like this, but I was actually doing it. I was going to get into the wine industry and leave all this pain behind. I was going to spend the rest of my days walking through vineyards, talking about tannins and structure in a deliciously pretentious way, strolling through the best farmer’s market you’ve ever seen, drinking the fruit of the vine with dear friends, giving lectures at universities about wine and spirituality, traveling to France and Italy and Spain often, maybe even buying a couple of horses. I imagined myself presiding at the Communion table saying “This morning Jesus’ blood will be represented by a spicy little Syrah with notes of blackberry and coffee.” It was gonna be a good life.
But we couldn’t afford it.
The move would have to be put on hold.
As I am coming to terms with this, and the tears still come in the dark hours of the night, I am realizing this: you can’t run from pain. Pain will find you, chase you down, overtake you. It is a lot faster and craftier than you are. It knows all the shortcuts. You might elude it for a season, but in the next season it’s gonna find you. If the harvest is glorious one year, odds are the next year you’re gonna face frost. If I had moved to wine country this month like we planned, pain would be one of the boxes on the moving truck.
But here’s another thing I’m realizing. It is no accident that I have found myself in a field that majors on pain. It may actually be that, I say with fear and trembling, I am called to this. Not hospice per se, because I still know my time there is waning, but coming alongside of hurting people. Because even when I envision a life in wine country, I don’t actually imagine myself living a life of leisure, bottled off from the coarseness of real life. I imagine myself listening to people, asking about their dreams, hopes, and fears, pushing past the superficial to what people really love. I imagine myself as a spiritual director, maybe even a retreat center director, caring for people who are burnt out and wrestling with doubt and exhaustion.
Since ancient times, people have said that wine creates something transcendent, that its smell and taste and texture and warmth can even be a spiritual experience. But grapes must be crushed in order to make wine. The good life is not a pain-free life. We do not seek out pain, but pain will inevitably seek out us. Let’s be prepared for it, and let’s not suffer it alone.