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Serving Life


I don’t know if I’m so forgiving because I want to be forgiven.

I don’t know if I’m constantly seeing the good in those deemed ‘bad’ because I’m insightful or because I want to be good.

But I am forgiving and I do see good in bad.

This extends from situations to people.

I watched ‘Serving Life’ on New Years Day and it touched me so deeply – on so many levels.

First I thought about the convicted men.

It breaks my heart when I hear compassionate, intelligent, repentant, very human convicts wishing they could go back and undo their crimes.

That’s someone’s child – who cannot go back and will forever pay for their mistake.

I think about all the people who comment on news stories with such piousness.  I know that I have sinned – odds are they have too and how dare they judge another?

How many of those judging a murderer have been party to an abortion?  How many didn’t get caught the night they drove home drunk?

I think about a person born into an environment of despair, crime and fear – into a broken family devoid of encouragement, hope or love … what chance did they have?

I’m reminded of some lines from Silence of the Lambs.


Hannibal:  No! He covets. That is his nature. And how do we begin to covet, Clarice? Do we seek out things to covet? Make an effort to answer now.

Clarice: No. We just…

Hannibal: No. We begin by coveting what we see every day …


We want what we see.  We mirror who we know. 

We can only do better when we know better.  At that point, it’s a choice.

If all you are exposed to is hunger, anger and helplessness – how do you know there is a ‘better’?

Are those seeking an escape from their reality with what they know, crack, heroin … less than those sipping too many martinis after a long day at the office – or abusing their Xanax prescription?

Does the tool for escape define the person?

There are so many crimes committed by people who are under the influence of drugs.

Drug addiction changes a person – takes hold and inserts its barbs into the flesh of the addicted.  But these are people who can be helped!

Why are we taking up so much prison space with people who were convicted for drug possession instead of treating them?

Then there are the mentally ill, who are certainly not served as they need to be in our country.

Why are we surprised when an untreated mentally ill person colors outside of society’s acceptable lines?

I think the outrage should be directed more toward the system that is neglecting those who need it.

I’ll now qualify all of the above with – there should be punishment for crime.  And murder, theft, assault is not acceptable.

I just know there’s a person under that orange jumpsuit – and reasons behind the crime.

I’m not offering excuses for them – I’m offering the idea that there is more than meets the eye.

Having said all of that – I’ll be honest when I tell you that I found it very difficult to find compassion for one man who had a terminal brain tumor.

His crime was that of sexually assaulting a minor.

He would fall into the mentally ill category I suppose – as in my opinion, a mentally healthy person wouldn’t have committed such a heinous crime.

I still wasn’t able to find my compassion for him even after acknowledging this.


The inmates that decided to take part in the hospice program were surprisingly affected by the environment.

I say surprisingly because some had been exposed to death before, in violent and personal ways.

Men who had taken a life, sat scared and uncomfortable as they sat vigil with a man breathing his last breath.

The film makers did not spare the audience the final moments of the dying.  This was a raw and very real look into a hospice situation.

One man in particular became ill suddenly – unable to keep weight on his bones and coughing up blood.  The x-rays the prison had taken showed signs of cancer – but until a biopsy was done, they couldn’t diagnose the man.  He came several times to the ward only to return to his cell without having the tests done.

The fear in his eyes was my undoing.

The nurse asked him if he wanted to be admitted to the ward – no … he didn’t want to give up.

She explained that it wouldn’t be giving up.  That no matter where he was, if he had hope, he was not giving up.  But that he would be needing care should medical intervention be needed and that they could give that to him there.

Two things struck me at this point.  That this man, who was in prison, wanted to live – and even within the walls of that penitentiary, he still had hope.

To me though, that hospice must have smelled to him like the euthanasia room at a dog pound.

It was where people went to die – not to get well.

Here he was showing up to find out what was wrong with him, and the tests being delayed – and returning to his cell in fear and sickness.  I wanted to cradle him.  I wanted to shout for a doctor on his behalf.

He was sentenced to life after all – not death.

He finally did get his results – and they were worse than anyone expected.  He was given only weeks to live.

In his final weeks, he was afforded a visit from his brother, who was also imprisoned.  I was moved to tears as he implored his brother to change … to do better.

They prayed together and again, I wanted to hold that man.

The filmmakers followed him from couch to crematorium.


The men that stayed by his side – who washed him and changed him – were getting perhaps a first lesson in humility, selflessness and compassion.

I say perhaps, because I don’t know that to be true.

But if it wasn’t their first lesson – it was definitely a powerful  experience that would leave a profound impression.

Even the warden admitted during his interview that he couldn’t do it.  That he had admiration for the men who could.

Those men got past their fears and became angels.

There was change.

There was deep regret for the lives they had taken.

There was respect for the process of dying.

Had these men been part of such a program prior to their crimes – would they have committed them?

I wondered with heavy heart about that too.

How does someone value life when they themselves are born into a world that does not value them?

When you’re raised to feel as if you are a statistic, a stereotype, a burden – where do you find worth within that gives you the strength to want to accomplish good things for yourself, let alone others?

There are those that do find it.  People who beat the odds.

I find that to be amazing and inspiring.

I have always been incredibly in awe of those who overcome adversity because they made a choice to do so.

I also think that by choosing to be part of the hospice program and being of service to the dying – the men documented in this film have done the same thing.

Some will have a chance to live that change in the outside world – some will not.

But I don’t think it came too late – it’s wonderful that it came at all – they learned the value of life through comforting the dying.

Bigger than this

I tossed and turned last night.  I wanted to keep reading a book I was so close to finishing, but it was way past my bedtime.  I begrudgingly shut off the lights and closed my eyes.

Deep in thought, couldn’t get comfortable – dog (of course) was staring at me.  I flopped about like a fish on the deck of a boat.

Then from nowhere (in mid-flop), bigger than my irritation at not finding sleep, a sense of assurance.  A voice.  I was being given answers to questions I wasn’t asking.  I was not being ‘still’ but I was knowing God.

“Yes, there is more than this”  “Look for the bigger picture”  “Find me”. 

There were words and shame on me for paraphrasing whoever was speaking, but … how to explain?  It was more of a feeling than a dialogue, although, there were words.  I’m conveying here the gist of those words.

Almost felt like whatever was ‘talking’ to me was lovingly chuckling.  The way we might as we watch a toddler try to accomplish something the hard way because they don’t know better.  Or because the item is too big for them. 

There were no other prerequisites other than ‘getting’ that there was ‘more’.

PHEW!  Because I am of no particular religion, I consider myself ‘spiritual’.  I believe in a power greater than me and I believe in love.  That’s about all I can swear on my life that I believe to be true for me.  I don’t want to fake a Faith in something so important just because I’m afraid to go to hell.

Now, whether that was God, or some internal, wise facet of myself speaking, (although, I don’t know what the heck she was doing up past our bedtime) it was very clear that I needed to hear that message.

This morning, I was peering into my pantry and my eyes took in the canned goods.  I saw my pantry in a different light.  A dimmer light that I knew not so very long ago.  The thought of being jobless crossed my mind out of the blue and suddenly, the cans didn’t seem like enough.  I was meting out meals in my head. 

On the drive to work, I was taking in the buildings, the cars, an emergency vehicle approached, lights flashing and sirens screaming – another voice. “This is not what it’s all about’.

Another assurance there’s more.  This time here – important and valuable, but a place we’re passing through to get to another destination none the less.

Why these thoughts??

Either I’m losing that final marble or …

I know I have an overactive imagination (or do I? ‘ Who’s to say?).  I had a vision as I started my drive to work this morning of being very sick.  Alone. Nic a young adult and I was dying.  Going to work anyway.

I wasn’t in a somber mood – no idea why such a morbid thought would play itself out in my head.

The other night had my mind playing out my death-bed scene.  Nic asks if I’m afraid to die.  I tell him no. “I’m not afraid to die, I’m afraid I’m going to miss you!”

And that’s it in a nut shell for me.  The good times here are SO good.  I am SO glad I was born.  I love the colours, the sounds, the creatures, the smells, the endless things to discover and I love dreaming and loving and laughing.

And there’s something bigger than THIS?  I’m in.