Running on Empty or Faith, Hope, and Love?

Running on Empty or Faith, Hope, and Love? January 30, 2022

English: Plate with a quote from the film Forrest Gump at Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant in Hollywood, California, USA; Prayitno, June 30, 2010; Creative Commons.

I love the scene in Forrest Gump where he runs for three plus years. Jackson Brown’s song, “Running on Empty,” plays alongside Forrest as he runs. Maybe Forrest was running just to run. Maybe he was running to put the past behind him. Maybe he was running to cope with the pain of losing Jenny, the woman he had always loved. Whatever the case, Forrest ran. When Forrest needed to eat, he ate. When he needed to sleep, he slept. When he needed to ____, he did. Hopefully, we all do the same.

I find Forrest Gump such a moving and inspiring story. Forrest touched countless people’s lives, including when he ran. Forrest did not allow his mental and physical challenges to keep him down. Rather, he picked others up along the way. I also find people who keep going in the face of huge obstacles inspiring. Take for example the healthcare workers at my son Christopher’s rehabilitative care facility. Sometimes the staff share with me as they diligently go about their work how hard it is to keep going given all the challenges in the face of COVID. Recently, a nurse told me that she didn’t know how much longer she could take the emotional and mental strain. While she may think she is running on empty with nothing more to give, her love for her patients and her calling keeps her going. What an inspiration.

Her struggle, and that of her respiratory therapist and certified nursing assistant colleagues, prompted me to get them Starbucks drinks of their choice that night. It was a small gesture of big-time appreciation for their heroic work. While the caffeine rush might only last a few hours, hopefully the energy from the encouragement lasts longer. We are indebted to them for their care for Christopher, who endured a traumatic brain injury a year ago last January. Where would we be without them?

There are times when I am running on empty and where I could easily lose faith in God or in humanity given all that we have endured this past year. And yet, just when I think about giving way to despair based on so much cruelty, pain, and indifference we endure, I sense God’s love and people’s love, thoughts, and prayers filling my soul in mysterious as well as concrete ways. As I sometimes tell those close to me, we are going deeper into the belly of the beast, but also deeper into the heart of God. We are also going deeper into people’s hearts. So, I am not losing faith in God or humanity.

Just like this nurse and her colleagues who keep going and keep caring for their patients like Christopher, so many people keep pressing on and drawing from reservoirs of compassion they did not know they had to care for those around them. They will not give in to the toxic elements in our society that would try to fill humanity’s lungs and heart with hate and apathy. These caregivers fill my lungs and heart with hope.

On Friday, a caring colleague at work said I look so tired. A friend like a brother told me on the phone yesterday that I sound so tired. They are right. But I am also right when I tell them I have never felt stronger. I can’t figure out why, though. It’s a true mystery. So I asked Pastor Tom Schiave last night how I can be so tired and so full of strength at the same time. The Italian Baptist sage said to me: “You are tapping into resources you never knew you had.” He also said that when we give to others, like the nurse who keeps caring for her patients, or when I bring the staff Starbucks drinks, we are replenishing those resources so that we never have to run on empty.

I gain energy, even when wiped out, in moving Christopher’s limbs. Sometimes he resists. Sometimes his limbs and joints are incredibly stiff. Often, I break out in a sweat below the blue plastic medical gown, N95 facemask, and face shield. But I am doing it for my son. It’s not because I’m anything special. It’s because Christopher is infinitely and indescribably special to me. And for what it’s worth, Christopher’s Forrest Gump impersonation is the best I’ve ever heard. I hope to hear my son do it again someday.

Even though Christopher is lying on his back all day and night, except when staff place him in his wheelchair, even though he is often expressionless, there are moments and minutes where Christopher surfaces, when his face begins to glow and smile, and his eyes come into focus. His CNA during the day yesterday said Christopher made such an appearance when they affectionately teased him. Christopher is in there, and he is in my soul.

I keep looking for increasing signs of Christopher’s emergence. Like Jenny cried out to Forrest once, “Run, Forrest, run!” (Check out this movie clip!), I keep saying, “Keep running, Christopher!” I am not running on empty just so long as he is with me. It’s not just he who needs us by his bedside. We need to be there to draw strength and comfort. So, we’ll keep running for life with him.

Just when you are thinking about giving in, just when you think you can’t keep going, that you are running on empty, remember there are people out there like Forrest Gump who keep running no matter how much life hurts and no matter how many physical, mental, and emotional challenges they face. You can keep going, too. You just might find that you will inspire others to keep faith, hope and love alive along the way.

To read the various posts that reflect upon our journey on life support with Christopher over the past year, please click here. Thank you for your prayers!

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