No one looks healthy in a hospital. The confident surgeon, the caring nurse, the visiting friend, the coffee cart worker, the smiling child in her mother’s arms—all of them sickly. The proximity of the suffering patients and their grief-stricken families, glimpses of red-rimmed eyes and shattered countenance behind swishing curtains, pacing past knotted clots of coagulated whispers in the hall—the dying diffuses through the air, bending the light in some unflattering way, highlighting an ugly commonality. The same broken lines etched across our faces, the same hinting hue in the soft blue shadows beneath our eyes. We are all residents of the terminal ward.
Standing in the bathroom outside the third floor Post-Op, recognizing these things in my own reflected face, doesn’t prepare me for her pale lips and large dark eyes swimming above the gauze-obscured wound at her throat, iodine-yellow. She is the color of milk. There is a dark red line drawn across white bedsheets, beginning at her neck and ending at a machine crouching in the corner making sucking noises. We are in a crowded room full of clatter and wheeled gurneys and beeping machines and hurrying people. Her eyes unfocus, slip off me to the movement behind. God, her eyes are so dark and so large. The air crowds in, bending the light.
When Jesus Christ walked the earth he healed our diseases. He multiplied our food and we were full. He calmed our storms, he restored our community, he freed us from spiritual oppression. He pulled the money we needed from a fish’s mouth. We had no lack of wisdom. Even death obeyed him. He claimed he could forgive our sin.
All of this, every conceivable need of our sickly race, met in himself. And yet he had the audacity to say, straight-faced, It is for your benefit that I am going away.
And he did it. He left us here, in sickness, in hunger, in poverty, in conflict, in sorrow, in hospitals, in ugly commonality, for our benefit. He left us here, where his own sufferings flow over into our lives, in between resurrections, for our benefit. He left us here, part of a body and in the company of a counselor, for our benefit.
It is a strange gift, and I can’t get my mind around it, lying here at 3:00AM on a makeshift bed of chairs, red-eyed behind swishing curtains, listening for her breathing.