I have thought a lot in past year or so about religion, spirituality, and my own relationship with each. I don’t consider myself a religious person, but I suppose it’s unsurprising that I would spend time pondering such things given that I spent a year training in hospice and palliative medicine and am currently a fellow in pediatric hematology and oncology. You can’t make it too far into a day in either of these fields without running up against the types of things that to provoke the bigger questions about life and meaning and what comes after.
You also can’t get too far without seeing how much strength and solace many folks draw from their religious faiths and communities. Not having been raised with much influence of a faith tradition, I devoted time last spring to learning more about the role that religion plays in the lives and illness experiences of many patients. (You can read more about it here.)
Still, it didn’t bring me any closer to defining my own beliefs. I suppose that’s because, without a longstanding belief system, my interpretation of events waivers based on the individual circumstances and how my experience of them is colored by any number of other work-, family-, or world-related events happening simultaneously.
Then one day last month, one of the churches that I pass each day on my way to work displayed a new phrase on its sign that grabbed my attention. That’s it! I thought as soon as I saw it. This is what I believe.
It’s not about where we end up, whether “home” refers to the end of life or whatever comes after it; it’s not about a particular achievement, having a physical place to live, or just making it to whatever place we call home at the end of the day. The important thing is that we’re helping one another – friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances, random people we meet on the street – along the way. It’s the sportsmanship that grabs our attention and sticks in our memory, whether it happens in real life (Desiree Linden stopping with Shalane Flanagan during a bathroom break in this year’s Boston Marathon) or in fiction (Lightning McQueen forfeiting a win at the Piston Cup in Cars to help the aging champion The King cross the line in his final race). It’s the sentiment, the practice, the way of approaching our lives and the fact that they are inextricably intertwined with others’ all around us. For now – or, more likely, for always, even if I eventually define specific beliefs to guide my life – this is my religion.