Like an ancient labyrinth of prayer, where there are no dead ends or wrong turns, only path, the hospital holds and pulls. It teaches us in the repetitive order hidden in chaos. A labyrinth of life and death, a space inviting both soul and body.
If the security staff is watching me on the cameras throughout the floors, they may be concerned because of my about-faces and sporadic-turns and non-sensical path. I would appreciate their guidance. The hundreds of doors and off shoots have disoriented me in the halls and I still don’t know the best way between my units or exactly where I will emerge from the stairwell. I hope they have some popcorn.
Though I have wasted some steps and minutes, the ones into the patient room are never. Under the cotton sheets and behind my paper ones, two souls commune in some of the bravest and most vulnerable moments of our lives, attempting connection. It is brutal and beautiful, and our nakedness becomes less important under the shade of the sacred Now. Now, lament doesn’t seem so dramatic. Now, celebration is costly. Now, the cross and the tomb count only in relationship to one another.
As a chaplain I represent many different things to each person. As a patient, they represent the most important things of a person. I don’t know if they have written a book, hurt their mom, been to jail, graduated high school, scammed their congregants, had a boob job, sang back up or passed the bar. When invited, I get to know what’s important to them, what haunts them and what helps them. I get to know their courage. They may not follow the crosswalk sign outside but in the hospital bed they somehow comply with scopes and needles. They may not have sat still in a classroom but in their hospital room they’ve waited in a beeping box for days. They may have otherwise been rude to me at the grocery store but in the hospital they need to hold my hand. Courage. It would seem the most vulnerable are often the bravest. It would seem that vulnerable situations encourage deep bravery.
We do not need a hospital room for this.
We do not need the shakedown of a diagnosis, the professionalism of a hundred staff, and the discomfort of the whole institution to squeeze this truth from our midst. Wherever we are, at our best we sustain vulnerability, we offer to come in, we speak our truth, and we connect. Our urgency for these things heighten around births and deaths; perhaps they are fundamental to life. Though so much is foreign in the hospital, perhaps the rules for engagement are most resonant with our design. What if, in this way, hospital was less exception, less extraordinary, and more true, more integrated.
Yes, like a labyrinth the hospital room pulls us, but also moves us out. Vulnerability, courage, connection–we emerge changed.