A few years ago, I read a book by that title. Its author, Winton Porter, runs a little outfitter store in the Middle of Nowhere North Georgia. (Not its actual name.) The store happens to be one of my favorite hangouts when I’m up in the hills. I love it, in part, because of all the characters passing through, which Porter catches so poetically in the book.
Many are out hiking, as the Appalachian Trail passes through the store’s stone porch. Some who visit the store live in the area, and I’ve been there often enough to notice they’re not really shoppers but collectors of local gossip and drinkers of strong coffee.
The book title is an obvious reference to life itself. We’re all just passing through, really.
My group from St. Francis and I attended a conference in ethics this past week at Emory University.
Most of the attendees and presenters were health care professionals, who shared stories and stats from the field. Fascinating stuff. Even as many of them said, “We’re all going to die,” it also struck me that we still don’t know what to do with it.
Yes, we’re just passing through this life and thus, in my opinion, we should pack lightly, but the heart says, “What about me?” Even with those who die “naturally,” we who are left behind still hurt and grieve and spit and cry.
Even with doctors and nurses who repeatedly see patients fail and die, the human element remains. “Could I/we have done something more?” They hurt, too.
One of the most powerful speakers this week was a man named James Shepherd. About 40 years ago, he suffered paralysis due to a swimming accident.
From Atlanta, James and his family were frustrated by the lack of medical rehab care in the city at that time. So they started what would become a world-class institution called the Shepherd Center, on Peachtree Road. (My mother-in-law, now deceased, was a patient on occasion and raved about it.) James spoke eloquently of patients’ adaptation of new skills, as he himself was clearly able to adapt to a new way of life and outlook.
Just passing through. All of us are. Hike on.
P.S. I just paid a visit to my parents and they had been on the phone with my father’s cousin Tom in California. Tom is about 80. Upon discovering they were all interested in reading a book about the second half of life by Richard Rohr, my mother told Tom: “It seems we’re all cramming for finals.”