On Being Gracious

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This week I interviewed Dr. Meghan Rothenberger for the podcast. She is a physician by training, specializing in infectious diseases. Her father was a doctor. She married a doctor. She had always wanted to be a doctor. Until recently, she was an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

In 2018 she had a happy home and rewarding work life, but then she noticed something was off. She started having suicidal feelings. She had struggled with depression on and off throughout her life but given the stigma surrounding mental health amongst medical professionals, Meghan found it difficult to recognize and seek help when she most needed it.

Her story shines a bright light on the tremendous strain being experienced by healthcare workers. I was aware of that, but in a remote way. Dr. Rothenberger brought life to my awareness. That is the power of an individual story.

Healthcare workers are enduring a lot of trauma with very little time and space to process daily loss, while being held to impossibly high standards. Their emotional health AND endurance are being stretched to the limits and beyond. We need them to care about us, and the the people we care about. Their raison d’etre is healing and care, but they aren’t being allowed to care for themselves.

As I considered Dr. Rothenberger’s plight—no doubt representative of many other healthcare workers, along with much of the general public, whose emotional resources have been depleted by the pandemic—I found myself thinking about grace. It’s the season for it; for Christians like me. Easter Sunday is coming up this weekend. It has also been the season of the Jewish Passover. It’s an especially good time to evaluate whether we are giving grace to healthcare workers, to others, and to ourselves.

Grace is not easily defined. The word bears an obvious relationship to gracious—having and giving grace—and embodies concepts like patience, kindness, generosity, tolerance, forgiveness, and mercy. Shakespeare wrote about mercy in the Merchant of Venice:

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes….

Because we human beings are flawed and frail and constrained in our capacities, we all need mercy—grace. But it can be hard for us to give. And for some, even harder to accept.

This may be why in many faith traditions, the giving of grace and of mercy are considered divine acts.

On mercy, Shakespeare further says:

It is enthroned in the hearts of kings,
It is an attribute to God himself;
And earthly power doth then show likest God's
When mercy seasons justice.

As two of the world's major monotheistic religions celebrate a holy season, I would encourage you to think about where you can give grace and mercy. Including to yourself.

As Shakespeare says, it blesses both the giver and the receiver.

My best,
Whitney

P.S. You can listen to my interview with Dr. Rothenberger here.

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