Wednesday, April 05, 2006

April 5, 2006 - Kindred Spirits

This evening I go to a support group sponsored by the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. It’s for people with blood cancers and their families (although everyone there on this particular night is a cancer survivor – no family members came). It’s held on the first Wednesday of every month at the Centra State Medical Center in Freehold, New Jersey.

The group is coordinated by Karen, an oncology nurse. There are a half-dozen or so people there, only a couple of whom have been there before. Apparently, there are several regulars who aren’t able to be there tonight – so, most of us are meeting the others for the first time.

As a pastor, I’ve led plenty of support groups in my time, but it’s a new experience to attend one as a participant. There’s something therapeutic about just sharing our stories. There isn’t much structure to the group (other than a closing Karen has prepared, with a brief, guided-meditation exercise), but we don’t seem to need much. The participants speak quite freely, and seem respectful enough of the need to allow everyone an opportunity, so Karen can pretty much sit back and let it all happen.

One of the things Karen hands out is a little piece I’ve used before in funeral sermons. I know it as “A Lesson From the Geese,” and it goes like this:

Do Geese Know Something We Don’t?

Fact: As each goose flaps its wings, it creates an uplift for the bird following. By flying in a "V" formation, the whole flock increases the flying range by 71% over one bird flying alone.
Lesson: People who share a common direction and a sense of community get where they're going more easily and more quickly because they're traveling on each other's thrust.

Fact: Whenever a goose falls out of formation, it suddenly feels the drag and resistance of trying to fly alone, and quickly gets back into formation to take advantage of the lifting power of the bird immediately in front.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as a goose, we'll stay in formation with those ahead and we'll be willing to accept their help. We'll also be willing to help those following behind.

Fact: The geese in formation honk from behind to encourage those up front to keep up their speed.
Lesson: We need to make sure our honking from behind is for encouragement and not for some other reason.

There’s actually another point that isn’t included in Karen’s handout:

Fact: When a goose gets sick or wounded or shot down, two geese drop out of formation and follow their fellow member down to help provide protection. They stay with this member of the flock until he or she is either able to fly again or dies. Then they launch out on their own, with another formation, or catch up with their own flock.
Lesson: If we have as much sense as the geese, we will stand by each other like that.

Maybe that’s a bit too much for the sort of support group this is – which is, after all, a revolving-door sort of group, with a constantly-changing membership. Communities with deeper sorts of covenants, like churches and families, are perhaps better able to live out this last lesson from the geese. But that’s OK, because I don’t think anyone could expect much more from a group like this, composed as it is of casual acquaintances who have no history with each other.

This little example has always spoken to me, because I have a soft spot in my heart for Canada geese. I know a lot of people around here think them a nuisance (which they surely are, taking up seasonal residency on places like school athletic fields and leaving their distinctive souvenirs behind), but I have memories of them from my college days on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. All through the fall and winter we would hear the honking of these magnificent birds as they flew overhead in “V” formation. Years later, I learned something about how practical that “V” formation is, and how it contributes to the common life of each flock. Yes indeed, we could learn something from the geese.

It’s not likely that I’ll make it back to the next meeting of the support group, because it’s the same day as my last chemo treatment. But I do think I’ll try to return for the June meeting. There’s nothing like a little honking to make the journey easier.


Anonymous said...

Love the analogy - and the eagles' wing imagery is like unto it, with mama eagle lifting the failed fledgling on her wing for a second try another day.

Hope the support group, your family, your congregation, and your colleagues all continue honking till you finish this migration.


Anonymous said...

Honk!!! Honk, Honk!!! We're all behind you and here for you, Carl!! Honk, Honk!!!

Anonymous said...

Pastor Carl
I am a hospice worker in Fairbanks, Alaska. Thank you for your blog. I enjoy your writing and your heart. You are in my thought, my heart, and my prayers.
*Honk Honk*
The geese were spotted last week in Delta Junction. So thankful there is always a coming Springtime with God. God Bless you.

Anonymous said...

I learned a long time ago (probably from some "Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom" show watched religiously by our family every Sunday evening)that there is another amazing fact about why geese fly the way they do. The "V" formation causes the leader to bear the brunt of the the wind's force, forging the way for those behind. But if you watch them closely, you will see that they take turns flying first so everyone shares the burden. The geese in the front drop down to allow the geese in the rear to move up and then they take their place further back in the formation where the resistance is less and the going is easier. That way everyone gets a chance to work hard and to rest, while the work is shared by all. Sounds like a plan, dontcha think? Another thing we can learn from geese!!
Consider yourself honked!!!
Nancy Karn