The Things That Heal Us

The Things That Heal Us October 15, 2008

I found myself at the hospital again the other day, which is not so unusual given my line of work.

(Lately I seem to be hanging out in those endless, nondescript hallways a little too much. I’m sure the folks I’m visiting feel the same way but, let’s face it, I get to go home while they have to stay so maybe I should just let it go . . . .)

I know, of course, that when I go to the hospital my role is to just show up-you know, say a prayer or two, read some scripture, be a calm pastoral presence.  But I confess sometimes the part of me that irrationally wants to fix things, to make the pain and the fear and the uncertainty and the sickness go away, comes right along with the pastor-me for the visit. 

This happened just the other day, when I sat for a few hours with a colleague and his wife in her hospital room. We were waiting for news-results from big and scary tests-and wishing there was something somebody could do about the pain. I tried to sit in silence and pray, just being a calm presence; I also tried to tell jokes and get everybody’s mind off the waiting. Neither worked very well and I noticed that I just couldn’t help but get up from time to time, bustle around to adjust a pillow, stroke a hand or pour some juice. I recognized that other me . . . not the pastor me but the one who keeps thinking: “I’m sure that if I keep trying I can find just the thing to make this all better!”

I realized things had gotten out of hand when, desperate to do something-anything-I offered to go downstairs for coffee. As I stood in line at Starbucks I realized I was holding a conversation in my head about whether a grande or a venti would be better. “If I get the big one, it will last a long time. It will provide the extra caffeine he needs to make it through this. Yes, I definitely think a venti would be better than a grande because . . .”

These are the moments when I wonder about my mental, um, stability.

First of all, who talks to themselves in their head like this?

And secondly, coffee does not cure cancer. I’m not a doctor but I am fairly sure about this. Not even a Starbucks venti Guatemalan roast. And probably not even one of those really fancy coffees that the person always in front of me in line is ordering whenever I am in a big rush.

And, I find, this realization makes me just want to scream. It makes me want to kick and scream and hit and pound the floor in frustration and cry a loud, hurting wail because I wish it did.

I wish it did.

I want to run downstairs to the cafeteria and bring back just the thing that will heal and mend and make everything better, and I can’t.

So, with coffee in hand I head back upstairs to the knowledge that, while I might not be able to bring in just the thing to fix the problem, I can just stand alongside and be a little participant in the things that were there all along-the things that heal us.

Love. Prayer. Commitment. Presence. Hope. Faith. Courage. Family. Church. Jesus.

And sure enough, when I get back to the room, there they are . . . all crowded around that hospital bed already. As I elbow my way in beside them just to gaze in wonder at all the things that heal us gathered there around my friend I turn to my colleague who smiles at me and says: “Amy, thank you for the coffee.”

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