Radio Maine Episode 72: Sally Thomas

 

7/17/22

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Hello, I'm Dr. Lisa Belisle  and you are listening to, or watching, Radio Maine. Today. I have with me, Sally Thomas. Sally, you have so many different degrees but I think one of them is a doctorate. So I should also call you Dr. Sally Thomas.

 

Sally Thomas:

You can, but no one else does. 
 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

<laugh> Well, there's just so many things to choose from here. Your doctorate, however, is what I guess I'll start with since this seems to be your latest iteration of self that you have for us to explore. Tell me about that. How did you end up with a doctorate in this field?

 

Sally Thomas:

So, I just graduated with a doctorate in ministry from Eden Seminary in St. Louis. Part of that is because I am married to a wonderful man but we've moved several times. So I always say I tried to bloom where I was planted and, you're right, I have done a lot of things. For instance, I was a nurse and I wanted to be a better nurse so I went back and got a master's in nursing and became a nurse practitioner. But over time, and with some of those moves, it became clear that my gifts were more around emotional support and being present with people who were suffering or unsure. And two things collided. I had small children and was teaching Sunday school, which was a hot mess, a lot of glitter, a lot of singing, and nobody was learning anything. And a friend of mine dragged me to a Montessori Way to tell the stories of faith, be it Jewish or Christian, that trusted the children's inner teacher. They didn't say, you must believe this, but said, what do you think? And so that started me on a path of considering more of a spiritual side of things. So I got a master's in theology and a spiritual direction degree and then wasn't done. I was paying attention to how families were changing in church in a digital age.  20 to 30 years ago, kids who came to church at all would run in, be with their friends, run around the edges, be on a playground or in a secret room. But in the last 10 years, children started to come in, sitting with their parents, almost like puppies in a pile, just wanting to be near them.

 

Sally Thomas:

I was wondering, what's changed. What's going on? And although I can't say for sure, I had a sense that all that serotonin in our bellies, that inner teacher, I think children recognize that their parents were completely present when they were sitting in a pew. There weren't any phones, there weren't any distractions. And I think they just wanted to be up next to them. They just wanted present parents. And so you know, that's the long story short. I am not an ordained person or anything, but I wanted to go and look at public theology, not what being present to one another was happening in churches, but what was happening in the real world. So that got me into a doctoral program and then some interesting research. And yeah,

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, I know that children and dogs are not the same thing, but at this stage in my life, my dogs are my children, because my children are all over the age of 21. And I'm thinking about the times when the dogs, we are two small dogs will come and they'll sit next to my husband or I, when we're on our computer or maybe we have our phone in our hands and they'll sit and they'll look at us and like, why are you doing this? Why are you so attuned to this box? I am in front of you right now. And sometimes they'll actually put their little paws up on the computer screen or on the keyboard. Like this is, this is not real life you need to, you need to come back to us. So this idea that children somehow intuitively are tuned into wanting to be present with their parents, more fully resonates

 

Sally Thomas:

Children work to get what they need, right. From the time they're young, they cry for what they need and then they use these fabulous words or signs or how they're reared. But I am constantly amazed at how human beings seek peace or seek connection or seek safety when that's what they need. And sometimes we are just not paying attention.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Do you think that some of what may be happening is that the current group of parents, we're all raised with computers, laptops, so they themselves were very digital. And now this next generation is very digital. Whereas maybe the generation before there was a little bit of a half and half, there was some time spent after hours like running around underneath the streetlights and coming in for TV that shut off at 11 with the noise that happened in the background. Is that possible?

 

Sally Thomas:

I think that's the only way to think about it. So the real question for me, and for us is not looking back and saying what was, but how do we embrace and love the technology we have and also say, are we serving each other? Are we really listening?  Here in Maine, you know, we have one of the highest rates of teen suicide and one of the lowest rates of community mattering. Do you know the scale of Gordon Flesch’s work? There is an every two year assessment of children in middle and high school that most public schools opt into. And one of the questions is “do I feel like I matter to my community?” And that's a declining statistic. And so, you know it doesn't take rocket science to think, how do we look at what's changed in society? We don't have as many structures in place to say you matter outside of your family you know, whether it's church or the 4-H club or the bowling leagues that were intergenerational or whatever.

 

Sally Thomas:

I just think we have to say, how do we do it differently going forward? And I appreciate your question, because that was really the Genesis of my, my recent research project. So yeah. 
 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, tell me about your research. 

 

Sally Thomas:

Sure. Well in the end it's called the Wondering Together project. And the idea was to invite 12 families from across the United States. I didn't know anything about their religious affiliation or anything, but it was the pandemic. So I said, I invited them to spend four weeks with a daily check-in of five minutes or 10 minutes using the same five questions almost every day. And these were questions I knew from this tradition called godly play, which was the Montessori approach to children's formation, but they translated really well to the secular world. So the idea was for a family to come together once a day, whatever worked for them.

 

Sally Thomas:

So one family had one year old twins and they did the Wondering Together questions while they each took a spoon and were feeding a baby in a high chair, right. That was their time. Another family found the best time was while they brushed their teeth at night. So it wasn't necessarily, we all needed to sit down and be serious.  One family here in Maine found driving to school together in the morning was the best time. But the invitation was to come sit, put your phones aside or on silent for just a few minutes and everybody take a turn answering these questions. You always had the right to pass. And the questions were these – I kind of described them Lisa, like little breadcrumbs to draw you in deeper. So the first question is, I wonder what part of today you like the best. Not hard and all ages can answer that.

 

Sally Thomas:

And then the second one was a little bit more complex. I wonder what part of today felt most important? What was the most important part of my day? And then everybody would answer whether it was a couple or a family, drawing you in a little deeper. The third question is: I wonder when you felt most alive today and for the littlest, the two and three year olds, we changed that to say, I wonder when you had the most energy today, because that makes more sense. The fourth question is I wonder what part of today you could have left out and had all the day you needed. So you can see how we're sort of saying not everything is terrific. Let's talk about the day. And then the last question is something educators are using now called affect naming. I wonder how you're feeling at this moment to name an emotion because we know neurobiologically when we name an emotion, it brings down the cortisol or the stress hormones in our brain and has a real impact on our physical wellbeing as well as our emotional wellbeing.

 

Sally Thomas:

So those five questions sort of brought an arc to the day and what happened over time was after about a week or two. And I did serial interviews. People would say, now when I go through my day, and I'm looking at something happening I go, well, that's my favorite part or that is the part I could have left out. I know what I'm gonna bring to the conversation tonight. So it was a month long project and I'd say that the most exciting thing at the end was the teens and twins who participated that particular age group and not all of the families had a teen or tween in them, but the parents had said in the early interview, they don't wanna do this, but I really wanna try it. It's the pandemic. And we're kind of hungry for something. In the final interview, the whole family participated by zoom. And I said something in the closing that was, I wonder if you'll keep doing the Wondering Together and the children looked at their parents and said, I wanna keep going or does this mean we have to stop? So I think that's an interesting proof. So now my hope, my goal, my work right now is to do research over a longer period of time.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

It's really interesting to me that even in this short conversation, you've moved us from a place of, well, I felt very sad thinking about children who don't feel as if they matter. And I know all health systems in Maine, probably across the country, are having issues now with teenagers who end up being housed in emergency rooms because we don't have outpatient psychiatric treatment. And it's, that's a terrible, terrible place to have to be as wonderful as our emergency room staff is, that is just not where children belong, but that made me feel very sad. But then as you were talking, it brought me to a place of hopefulness and it, and the research you're describing is very, the term is used generative. So as opposed to being kind of social critics, you're saying here is something that could be very powerful. It's very strengths oriented. How do we, and bring this into the common conversation? Was that a specific choice that you made as you were doing your research?

 

Sally Thomas:

Thanks for asking because you're identifying something that I felt a bit sheepish about at first, which was to say first I wasn't studying for a PhD and you know, for some of us, I had to get some understanding that what the work was about was practical theology. How could I be? And that didn't mean I was talking about God in public, but it meant this was a work for the greater good in the bigger world. And once I claimed my sort of place as a practical theologian, I said, what can we do that's a low bar entry point that has the potential to grow. And represents a low or almost no stressor to the family; it's really invitational. And because I used this series of questions as part of this other spiritual practice, I had seen how it had worked over decades.

 

Sally Thomas:

Like I have used those questions thanks to godly play sitting in circles of children for 20 years and seeing how it is reliable ritual, knowing that I have a place to lay my burdens down or my day in front of someone else really is impactful because it's almost like the tables set every day for someone to see me. The flip side of that, or the other good thing that you're mentioning about how this could be generative is I think children are really hungry to know more about the lives of their parents.  I think their parents think they share plenty, but I think they wanna know what it's like at your office? What's all that you're doing on zoom? I know it's important to you because it takes you away from me, but I don't know what it is. So when a parent says this was something I could have left out today or this is how I'm feeling, it really sets the conversation to say, we can talk about things.  Even if they get hard because we have ways to talk about them now. Yeah.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

It also creates a sense of respect for the children, which is something that you identified when we first started talking about this idea that they have an innate knowing of their own needs. And rather than us telling them, please sit over here at this little table. And here's a picture of some scene from the Bible and I want you to color it in, which honestly that is one of the ways that I went to Sunday school back in the day, we're suggesting that these feelings of spirituality are something they can already access and it doesn't need to be external, externally oriented so much.

 

Sally Thomas:

Yeah. There's a beautiful image from the Jewish faith tradition that talks about this divine spark that when God created each one of us, God took a piece of God's self, a very small piece of that unbelievability and implanted it in us. And my divine spark is not the same as yours, but we both are alive with that. And I think what would the world look like if we looked at each other and said, you know, sort of like yoga practitioners, that of the divine in me recognizes that of the divine in you, sounds good, you know, Namaste, but when you really listen to my stories and we hold them together that's the real deal I think. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I'm interested to know how as a nurse practitioner, and I believe your focus was oncology and palliative care. So cancer, death and dying moved into a place of theology and spirituality, personally. Because I can only speak for myself. I don't know what your experience is, but I think when you go into the medical field, there's this sense that one needs to be objective, that, you know, you need to absent yourself from your own feelings while respecting the feelings of your patients. I've never found that to be particularly effective with my own self, but I wonder how, how you worked through that for you.

 

Sally Thomas:

I would say it was a slow unveiling. And I say that because I graduated from nursing school and came to work at a children's hospital in Boston and threw myself into an adolescent oncology inpatient job. So I was 21 and the patients we had there were about the same age. So, as we know now our prefrontal cortexes aren't developed and I was dancing as fast as I could. I loved the work, but from there I got married and I wanted a day job. As we all do, we worked a lot of night shifts and I was a nurse at a family planning center in Boston, you know, where all sorts of things happen, tub allegations and vasectomies, but also pregnancy terminations and contraceptive planning. And I worked with a completely different group of people and the scales fell from my eyes about all that I didn't know about suffering, poverty, just how hard the world could be.

 

Sally Thomas:

And then I went to work for a home healthcare company that did high tech home care because aids patients were not wanted in the hospital. So all of a sudden, I'd had a couple friends who were LGBTQ, but I didn't understand what families looked like until I saw a new kind of family that wasn't mother father, but it was friends coming around and I was invited into their homes to stay for five hours giving IV Pentamidine, which should have been happening in the ICU. You know, and after that experience caring for HIV patients and really understanding aids is a sociological issue. All I wanted to do was be a better nurse. Like I felt like I don't know what I want, but I wanted to be better. So you're right. But it didn't just start with oncology care.

 

Sally Thomas:

It sort of slowly built. And we're so good at taking care of people that I think sometimes we recognize that we can't be everything they need.  Sometimes they just need some, I mean, maybe you've worked in an office. I know I have a medical office where the emotional care was offered by the staff in the front office. They knew everybody, they knew their children, they knew their name. And we were lucky enough to get pieces of that from the people who sort of ran interference for us, because we were so busy. So I'm just deeply appreciative that even though the path forward was not straight, that I had all that experience because all of a sudden when our family needed to move, I could sort of claim for myself, I think I'm ready to pay attention to people and kind of cultivate that piece of me. That's not a prescriber anymore or you know all the things that have to happen with oncology, but can really just listen. So that's yeah,

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I guess I’m feeling grateful right now because I always have ended up in settings where I've actually had the space to sit with patients. And in fact, sometimes that's all I could do because they didn't necessarily want to treat their blood pressure or stop smoking, but they were willing to sit and have a conversation with me and be seen that way. So when you're describing these offices and I do know they exist, that would make me, I think, run away because I think the most – yes, we do need to take care of the physical needs of the body. And that is very, very important. But being in family medicine for me, if I was ever in an office where I did not have the opportunity to know this person as a part of a family, whatever that looked like, I would know that that was not the right setting for me. And all that being said, there's still all the pressures that we all experience with people who want us to do certain things, so we will get paid a certain way, and the number of patients we need to see. Sure. So we can keep the lights on. But I would think that it would be very difficult to be in a setting where you only knew things about patients because you knew things from other people.

 

Sally Thomas:

I guess I will say that wasn't the only way. The joke in our office was there were two nurse practitioners and three oncologists, you know, excellent researchers and still wonderful people working in the field, but they would joke and say that their nurse practitioners were their hired personalities who got to do that piece of it. So it's not that I didn't get to do it. It's just that I recognize that sometimes I wanted to spend more time with the spiritual piece or not spiritual existential, you know, these, these existential issues. I kind of trust the universe or God or whatever to do that work. And we are just sort of helping people be ready for whatever's happening in that regard.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, I appreciate your clarifying that because I certainly don't want anybody to think anything differently than what your actual experience was. But it also still kind of makes me, you know, as a physician, I wouldn't ever wanna be in a place where my job was to be the technician and other people had the opportunity to know a person more fully. Yeah. Because at the end of the day, we're not just treating the body, we're not just treating the physical stack of cells that's wondering about the planet, but you've fully immersed yourself in this other aspect of self. That's so interesting to me that you've kind of been like, all right, I took care of that part of the self and we're gonna go over here now.

 

Sally Thomas:

Yeah. I think part of it too is, you know, we grow in our relationships with people we grow as parents, aging myself certainly breaks down some barriers. And so all of a sudden there's a significant amount of clarification over time. And I love that. You know, sometimes people laugh about turning, I'll be 59 next week, laugh about getting older. And I am sort of like bringing it on because right now this is perfect.  I, there's so much I don't know. And I'm eager to explore what sort of comes before me instead of having it all figured out.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So I feel the same way. So nice. I mean, I already knew we were kindred spirits, but I also know, you know, this idea that all of the best things happen to us when we're younger. And then the quote unquote “golden years” are just spent trying to kind of prop up the various parts of ourselves that fall down. I just don't really buy into that.

 

Sally Thomas:

So I agree.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Tell me about your connection to art.

 

Sally Thomas:

I had a terrific grandmother. My mother's mother called her De-De and she was creative. She was a painter. She had been a model. She loved beautiful things.  she surrounded herself with things that she'd gotten from travels or that she'd painted herself. But the most interesting thing that I wish I'd appreciated more was that she was a student of Ikebana, which is a Japanese art of flower arranging, which focuses on the beautiful spaces in between whatever the materials are. But as a little girl, I would walk into her house and she lived very close to us, but I'd walk in and she'd have what appeared to me to be a stick and a bud. And I sort of thought everybody else's grandma has bunches of flowers or I would fast forward to when my kids were in elementary school and I got to study at Ikebana and I wish she had still been alive, because I would have loved that.

 

Sally Thomas:

So surrounded by beauty, but not beauty for beauty's sake, but beauty because you felt connected to it or could tell a story about it. She was that way with poetry. And my mom has a lot of that too. And then you meet the coolest people. Like I married a man, still married to him, love him, but one of his best friends from spending summers here in Maine is now an artist in San Diego. And she was painting when we were in college. And so we started to buy art and then we started to go to art festivals and then we started to appreciate that sometimes the dishes we used could be art. And so people walk into our home and think, oh, you guys know so much about art. The truth is, we buy things because we like the artist's story or it seems to fit.

 

Sally Thomas:

And  every time I look at it or we look at something there's delight or a story or a connection. So I recently bought a piece by Ann Trainor Domingue, and  I was actually creating some space for myself to say, I've just finished this doctorate, the research went well, I've saved some money and I'll know it when I see it and in no hurry. I didn't have a space to fill or what, when you love art, you tend to always find space when you need it. But you don't know, there's no open space until you do. And I had the opportunity as I was getting a new pair of glasses next door to walk in and thought I was going to see one artist, and then kept coming back to this piece and knew it was speaking to me.

 

Sally Thomas:

And then my practice is always to walk away and then to come back a day or two later and make sure, or maybe a week later or whatever. So that's the latest art story. But one, if I may just interesting thing happened a couple of years ago when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died. I had seen two days before an artist had what they called a “clothes line series.” So it was paintings of things on clothes lines, but what was hanging off was amorphous. And there was one particular painting that was nine different black things. And it was a representation of our Supreme court and I saw it and I thought, wow, that's a really cool thing. And then when Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, I found myself driving an hour to that gallery and hoping that it was still there for some reason I hadn't forgotten it. So, art can take on meaning for a lot of reasons, but there's a story with that piece. I'm not sure I would've gone back for it for any other reason, but it called me back or she called me back. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

And there are some times that things impact us so deeply that we don't really know exactly how to respond. And sometimes, I mean, when I think about Ruth Bader Ginsburg and of course she was older, but it was still such a loss. It was a loss. And not even really knowing how to grieve this very public person. So the fact that you and yourself knew, okay, I need to go back and I need to connect with this space that I once was in with this art. I mean, that's very powerful.

 

Sally Thomas:

And it still hangs and still speaks to me. There's been a lot coming out of the Supreme Court and for some of us it's really challenging and art doesn't make it better, but it certainly smooths the edges when we need those edges smooth. I find art really grounding. and sometimes it moves around. Sometimes I need to see it in a different place. I change where it's living. But I find that when one surrounds themselves with beautiful things that make you feel at home, then that's the anchoring place from which you can go do the bigger work. So it's funny because if we've got two grown children and one, you know, has decorated their home with art different than I would've chosen, but boy does it feel like them, she's now married and our other daughter liked plain walls. And I have to say, I kept saying, how about if I buy you something? Would you like a piece of art? She's like, I'm good. I'm good. So <laugh>, I think she'll change, but I don't know. It's really funny though.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

She's perhaps she's inherited the love of space

 

Sally Thomas:

Maybe,

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

So she's channeling her great grandmother.

 

Sally Thomas:

Exactly. Her great grandmother, De-De, yes.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Well, I know that with Ann's pieces, for me, I've never been able to decide which one I like the best. That's how much I love her work. And even having spent time talking with her for the show and then going back and talking to her again, even then the relationship just kind of keeps evolving and it just makes me love her pieces even more. So I think you're right. I think there's so many different things about art that can speak to us. You know, there's the visual, there's the personal, there's the story around the art itself. And sometimes we don't even consciously know what it is that's drawing us to any given piece at any given time.

 

Sally Thomas:

You know, what's interesting is when I was in the gallery with this piece and had a chance to talk to the staff in there, who were so great, they started to share a little bit about Ann's process. And I said, oh my gosh, that sounds a little bit like what my work is, even though it's not art and this kind of dynamic overlapping kind of a venn diagram of creativity, one from doing research and art ensued. And it was affirming that this was the right artist in the right piece at the right time. And it all sits well with your soul. It's just right. And there's not a whole lot of that in the world. So let's find as much as we can and store that feeling up like nuts for the winter. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

I think that's a good way to put it. It's an interesting thing to continually interface with this sort of ever changing world and, and know that there truly isn't any solidity, but if you can at least have that nut that you feel like is solid. There's that possibility that there's something that you can return to. I think that is comforting. Somehow.

 

Sally Thomas:

There's an ancient Christian mystic from a thousand years ago Ignatius of Loyola, and he talked about consolation and desolation and described that the most consolation is when you feel close to what's good, what's universally, right? Perhaps that's God. And his invitation was to store up consolation, say to yourself, this is how it feels when all is right. When you know, there's health or happiness or a good meal or whatever. So that when there's desolation, the time of being separate from what feels good and right, you can almost open up the sunshine box or, you know, recall that because there's always ebbs and flows. So his invitation was nothing lasts forever, but store up the feelings because they serve each other when you need that kind of sustenance. When you need to know things will be better in time. I think it's a beautiful image. When you think of art too, you sort of go to it and go wherever you are, and then internalize that and draw it in later, that beauty or the majesty or the brilliance, or how could that even come to being. Music's like that too.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

So how do we work to, and cause people to have the space to feel like they matter, because as you're telling me at the beginning of this conversation, that the children in Maine fall low on this mattering scale. And I think there's so much that is around us that should provide consolation. You know, there's so much that is beautiful and wonderful about this day. And the state we live in, maybe not in March, but definitely right now. There's so many really wonderful people that live here. How do we help children? And really any of us to get to that place where we feel as if we have those nuts that we can return to in difficult times.

 

Sally Thomas:

It's really something I think about a lot. And there's a whole organization, the Maine Resilience Building Network that's pulling in practitioners from across all sorts of social service and educational agencies. That's trying to answer this question. And I'm a – everything they offer, I soak up what comes up for me when you ask that question and why I keep coming back to it is; this is gonna sound crazy, but I think a lot about Maslow's hierarchy of needs. If you don't have your own physical needs and sense of safety met, even though this is an old concept, you really can't do the higher ordered thinking or the opening of the heart to another person. So this is really about our social fabric. How do we help one another feel safe and have our physical needs met, you know, feel stable.

 

Sally Thomas:

However that looks because once we do that, then it's not on the minority of people who can do that higher ordered thinking. Then we can all share in the vocation, the avocation to care for each other, by really saying, remind me of your name or I'm so glad to see you again. I noticed I missed you, and things that we talked about earlier, like churches and clubs and meeting places that we don't do so much anymore, that used to serve that purpose.  We now leave – sometimes bus drivers say, we, I missed you, or people in stores or whatever, but I think it isn't the invitation on us all to say, I see you remind me of your name. I'm sorry. I've forgotten names are important.

 

Sally Thomas:

And I know you're important. I'm Sally,  or however you find your way into those conversations, because you never know if even that small connection. I mean, I'm not telling you anything you don't know, but I think we have to say I know we're feeling closed off. We're tired. We've been in this pandemic, and we are stressed too. But to say for the greater good, let's try a little harder. It's not that simple, but that was sort of the impetus of this research I did was just to say things with a really low bar, where can the invitations be? And then people far wiser than I can build on those too, so we can be experiencing those changes and successes together as a society.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I like the idea that what you're discussing and describing is essentially its tools. So when you talk about practical theology, I love those two words together because I think sometimes it can feel overwhelming to ponder the large theoreticals and the abstracts. And what you're saying, here's a low bar. Here's a few words. Here are a few things that you can do because I think you're right. It is simultaneously very difficult and very easy to connect with somebody, even in a small way it can really open things up unexpectedly at times.

 

Sally Thomas:

I think we're not serving one another if we don't try those small things, if we say, oh, we've gotta do the big things. I think it's the small things that are going to reverberate because you probably have, in your experience, these small moments where someone changed something significantly for you, by giving you a second chance to answer a question when you were an intern or do you know what I mean to say, let's think about that together or I've missed you.  That's not hard to do. And you never know, back to your earlier comment, how generative that might be. I've been trying to make it hard for so long to do the big things. And the older I get, the more I'm convinced that let's start with what we can do and not overthink this and at least try.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

That's a heavy burden that you took upon yourself.

 

Sally Thomas:

I think I don't see it that way. I just see that I've had so many cool opportunities and I'm really lucky to be grounded in a lovely, loving marriage over time. And from that who am I not to say? Have we met before? It's so nice to see you because I have fruits from which I can extend my own energy.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Well, to be clear, I don't mean the talking, you know, offering these small things. I don't think that is the heavy burden. Yeah. But the sense that I have that maybe earlier on –

Sally Thomas:

Thank you.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Was the burden the need to change everything?

 

Sally Thomas:

I think you’re right.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: :

And also honestly, it's very relatable. I mean, I think many of us go into medicine because we want to somehow make a difference. And then we get in there and it's such a complex set of systems that if you were to just focus on the long term, sustainable change, it might get very discouraging. So this, this heavy burden is, as I have felt myself, so it's not in any way meant to be a criticism. I, and if it doesn't feel like it resonates with you, please do not own it. because I don't wanna assign this to you.

 

Sally Thomas:

You didn't, and I didn't hear it as a criticism. I think I understand that.  How so many of us experience this, especially because we self-select into careers as young people so it's just the nature of the business. I think that you go in early and taking care of people is the greatest gift and it's tough to sleep some nights and that's just the way it is.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

In the hospital that I work in, in the stairwells they've painted these quotes, which are wonderful. And the one that I see and it's probably the one I think of the most is the Maya Angelou quote about people forgetting what you did, people forgetting what you said, but they'll never forget how you made them feel. And these small gestures that you're describing. I think sometimes in that moment can cause people's feelings to shift, but certainly are iterative over time that if you continually are saying good morning, Sally, it's so nice to see you, that that relationship building does lead to that longer term gain and benefit for someone

 

Sally Thomas:

Since I've left nursing I've functioned as a hospital chaplain and now I'm a chaplain at a retirement community. And one of the jokes about chaplains is that we linger with intention. We're one of the few hospital staff who can linger with intention. And I think that is it's such a joyful job just to be ready to meet the moment and be less purposeful and more you know, it makes you part of a team because you can do something a little bit different, but my cup is really filled during my time in the retirement community because there's so much wisdom and they do not care about singing old hymns or praying old prayers, but talking about the key experiences of their life and what they learned and what they want others to know goes back to Maya Angelou. They remember how people made them feel. And those are the first memories that seemed to come up when they were loved, when they were seen. 

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle:

Which brings us full circle to the conversation about children. Yeah. And they may not even be capable of putting words to an emotion at the time that they're feeling the emotion. So even just allowing them the space to feel that emotion and perhaps helping them with the words to express that, I think it seems like it's helpful across the life cycle.

 

Sally Thomas:

What would it be like if we all had the right words or at least the space to stop and name how we were feeling and knowing that we're sort of equipped for the next moment? <affirmative> I know I could use more of that. So

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

I think we all could, Sally, I really appreciate your taking the time to talk with me today. I could probably keep you here for half a day, a day, a week, keep talking, but I know we do have to give you back some time in your own life. So I really appreciate your taking this time with me today.

 

Sally Thomas:

Thanks for the invitation. I've enjoyed our conversation.

 

Dr. Lisa Belisle: 

Thank you. I've been speaking with Sally Thomas, who is many, many things, but  I will call her the practical theologian who also has a love of art, if we need to label her, which I'm not sure that we do.  You can learn more about the artist we've discussed today, Ann Trainor Domingue. This is another individual that I've interviewed previously and many of our other wonderful artists. And maybe if you go to an art opening, you'll actually run across Sally Thomas as well. I'm Dr. Lisa Belile, you've been listening to or watching radio Maine. Thank you, Sally.

 

Sally Thomas :

Thank you.