Questions and Practices

(ViaRail, Montreal to Toronto, Fall 2016)

(ViaRail, Montreal to Toronto, Fall 2016)

I work in the emergency department. As soon as I open the curtain, I receive many inputs. Does this person’s clothes tell me they sleep on the street? That’s a great risk for many things. Is that a facial droop? Have they had a stroke? Is this a doting daughter beside the bed, or one visiting from far away? My mind races with questions, starts lining up tests and diagnoses. So many variables to consider to make it safe for this person, for the ones I left behind other curtains. The processing can be so automatic that it borders on the habitual and I almost forget my job: to recognize properly the whole worried person shivering in the hospital sheets.

So I slow down. I add, to the encounter, my own version of ritual. I sit, put my pen away, smile. “I’m Dr. Maskalyk. How can I help you.” They tell me, and my mind races, as it must, deciding and planning. When the questions are done, I stand, and nearly every time, take their wrist, feel their pulse, and wait.

Bump. Bump. Bump.

This is a person, with a beating heart. Wow.

- James Maksalyk

What kinds of practices help us to keep going when the world reveals its harshness to us? How do I keep going when it is hard? How do I start over when I've messed up, given up, got crushed, lost my way? What kinds of practices help us to keep seeking the global common good, when the good seems far, vague, and unattainable? How do I care for what seems beyond my reach?

These are some of the questions asking for my attention in this week after I've turned fifty. They are variants on the questions I've been consciously asking for decades: What do I love? Who am I? Where do I belong? What do I believe? What constraints and opportunities does this time and place present to me? What am I to do? Which, I suppose, are ways of asking how I am to make sense of my life, how I am to find my way in the world?

After the tumult of my late forties, it looks as if I may slowly settle, inwardly, unsurprisingly in greater part through long-established practices, albeit now in fresh variants: praying a psalm in the morning (using Jim Cotter's Out of the Silence prayer book when I am at home in my little hermitage in Outremont, using the pocket edition of Phyllis Tickle's The Divine Hours when I am on the road), joining in the celebration of the eucharist on Sunday mornings when I am able (at Christ Church cathedral when I am in Montréal), preparing, eating, and sharing meals.

This would be a good decade to attend to the practices others have found in the face of their questions.