“That could be me…” Reflecting on a parallel life

“That could be me…”

The nurse’s eyes met mine as I stood across from her at the patient’s bedside. She is young, in her mid-20s. A city girl, her fare card slipped into the back of her ID badge holder, she is manicured and physically fit. I note her friendly smile and caring ways. And it seems like she has everything to live for and years to do it.

Her patient and mine lay sedated in the bed between us. Her complexion was waxen. Her breathing, heartbeat and other vital signs were monitored and controlled by machines. In the last week, she had not opened her eyes nor given more than a token response to stimuli from the medical team. The prognosis was not good.

In the early morning hours of the hospital, I try to make rounds to check on my sickest patients. Sometimes it is to offer a cup of coffee to a family member holding a bedside vigil. Sometimes it is to come and pray silently and offer words of comfort, reassurance, and release. And sometimes, it is simply to offer a compassionate, understanding ear to my co-workers, who have less time to reflect and process the ups and downs of life. It is a sacred trust.

“She has my name. And I’m just a year older.” We shake our heads. “And then there’s the pictures her family brought in…” We glance at the photo of a laughing, lovely young woman. The ‘Before’ picture underscores the serious medical issues she has.

I stroke the patient’s hand. It is young, soft and unwrinkled. It doesn’t seem right, some how. “Do you mind if I pray over her?” I ask.

“Not at all,” she says, “in fact, I think it helps me stay grounded.”

I smile. “Yes, me too.” I open my prayer book and begin to read, softly…

“Almighty God, by your gentle power you raised Jesus Christ from death. Watch over this child of yours…”

My words are accompanied by the sounds of whooshing machines, bells and a buzzing pressure cuff. I try to give them inflection and heart. The nurse continues to hang medications and check the lines as I read on…

“…Banish fear. Brush away tears…”

I finish the reading and quietly say the Lord’s Prayer. The nurse joins me. And at our “Amen” we both brush away tears.

“I’ve never said this to my pastor,” she says, “but I really struggle with this… with someone so young.”

I nod. “Yeah. Me too.”

She sighed. “I’m afraid if I tell them that, that they’ll tell me I don’t have faith. But I want to hit something. It makes me angry. Like… why that little boy in Boston? Or a hurricane? Or a tornado? Why suffering? Why pain?”

We stand in silence and I finally answer.

“I don’t have any answers to those whys… in fact, I have moments where I punch a pillow and cry, or sit and stare… at nothing. And it’s hard to sleep. I only know that we live in a broken world, a world where sin gets to rule. And that one day, the world we see when we open our eyes will be beautiful and perfect…”

We stand in silence, together for a few more seconds. Our eyes meet.

“It doesn’t answer my questions. It doesn’t always make me feel better.” I shrug. “But until I fully understand, there will still be days that I want to punch something. And ask God all of my whys and why nots!”

She smiles. “Now I get it! That’s why I love kickboxing so much!”

Chuckles move us to our next tasks. She to perform the next care for the young woman, so still in front of us… me to drop by and see the next patient or family member.

Living in this tension of the now and not yet… of the unaswered question reminds me of a song by Jeremy Riddle – “The face of death, it haunts too many eyes…”  Yet even in the questions, the wonderings, the grumblings and confusion… still I believe God is there. Waiting. Embracing. Listening. And not judging my anger and feeble attempts to make sense of The Infinite with my very finite mind…

Here now we’re coming
Humbly now we’re waiting
Children in need of daily bread
Our storehouses are empty
Our burdens are weighty
Pain, disease, and strife on every side

Father, Father in heaven, in heaven
Holy, Holy is Your name, Your name
Let Your Kingdom, let Your Kingdom
Let it come, Lord, let it come, Lord
On earth God, on earth
As in Heaven, in Heaven

Hear the cry of Your children
Your sons and Your daughters
Born of Your Spirit
To You we cry Abba

The hungry still hungry
The thirsty still thirsty
The face of death, it haunts too many eyes
Whom else can we look to
There is no help but You
Your rule and reign is needed on the earth

“Look! God’s dwelling is here with humankind. He will dwell with them, and they will be his peoples. God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more. There will be no mourning, crying, or pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Rev 21: 3b-4

One day. Yes.

Thanks be to God.

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