In the Poetry Foundation article “Finding Poetry in Illness,” Jennifer Nix, an NPR producer, credits poetry with helping her “navigate from disease to ease” when she received a diagnosis of advanced kidney failure in her early 40s. Among the poems Nix discovers while waiting for a transplant, undergoing surgery and coping with its aftermath are Leonard Cohen’s lyrics. She quotes “Anthem”:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Reading this, I thought of how often our connections with and care for others arise not from “perfect offerings” of ourselves but from our own wounds or brokenness—the “crack” that signals both imperfection and openness. In Pablo Neruda’s short memoir “The Lamb and the Pinecone,” the gift left for him through a chink in the fence is not a perfect toy sheep: “The sheep’s wool was faded. Its wheels had escaped.” But, says Neruda, these flaws “only made it more authentic. I had never seen such a wonderful sheep.”
One of the hardest things for doctors, nurses, social workers and other healthcare professionals to confront is that they cannot always make their sick patients whole. In civic reflection programs for hospice and palliative care teams, this theme comes up again and again as team members struggle with the boundaries of their ability to help—not only the limits of what medicine can do but the equally real limits of their own resources, both tangible and intangible. But even in the absence of the power to effect physical healing, they can honor “the crack in everything”--including themselves--and the light shining through it. As Jennifer Nix learned, there are many ways of healing and being healed.