September 12, 2012

God's Stars

I t is 3:12 a.m. I cannot be late. I have made a promise to my friend Leslie that I must keep. As I pull into the hospital’s oncology facility, I remember a picture Leslie drew about five months ago. She had drawn the facility with intricate detail, and around the building were angels: angels surrounding the building and one angel looking out her bedroom window. All the angels were smiling. Leslie was quick to explain that the angels didn’t just “stay there” all the time. She said that some left with me and went to my house. She once said: “I tell my angel it’s OK to drive home with you and make sure you are OK.” It was the most poetic thought I had ever heard.

Security officer Allen greets me at the door, laughing as we walk by, probably to ensure the front doors have locked behind me so that we may be safe again. His laughter is more powerful than any security measure he could ever implement to keep patients out of harm’s way.

2012 1525 page23On the second floor I find Leslie sitting on the side of her bed, dressed in a pink sweatsuit and white sneakers that are not laced up. She looks up, smiles, and I remember why I have dragged my weary, tired body out of bed. I kneel in front of her and tie her shoelaces as she lists galaxies and stars. Today we will sit on a bench outside hospital walls and watch the stars disappear as the sun comes up. Sneakers laced up; I squeeze Leslie’s little shoes and tell her it’s time to go. She extends her little hand toward me. She does not ask, but I know she wants me to hold her hand. I do.

As we walk I realize the terrain is difficult. Leslie points at the lake, clapping her hands and laughing. In my mind’s eye I can see Leslie running ahead of me, full of energy and life, splashing into the shallow end of the lake, scaring the ducks. But she lacks the energy.

Ten minutes later we have settled on a bench close to the lake, and Leslie is pointing out every star we can see. How long has it been since I have seen the stars? I watch her little fingers point at the heavens. She refers to them as “God’s stars.” As the sun peeks over the horizon, she rests her head on my shoulder. She is already tired. I put my arm around her and she asks: “Are we stars? Do we shine?” Before I can answer, she falls asleep.

Do we shine? I smile, remembering the old familiar song: “This Little Light of Mine.”

I thought I was looking after her, but Leslie has looked after me.

There is something humbling and sacred about divine compassion, and how the Holy Spirit whispers, reminding us of it, encouraging us to look after one another, to shine in places where darkness may reside. To shine? Is it about visiting the ill? Waiting on the side of the bed, unable to tie your shoelaces, trusting God will bring someone to help? Is it recognizing the wonder of the cosmos, being amazed at God’s creation? Is it the silence between us that needs no explication because there is love and empathy in our hearts? Is it the comfort of holding up your hand knowing there will always be someone to take it and hold it tight through any terrain?

We are all patients of sorts. Jesus identified Himself with the suffering of humanity to provide the final solution. Looking after one another, this we do as we witness the consummation of the work of deliverance He has initiated.

The sun is up. It’s time to go. I hear someone approaching and see Allen bringing a wheelchair. I am grateful for his kindness, doing this on his own time. I tell him Leslie has reminded me of a childhood song, and just like that, we sing it together, all the way back.

“Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12).

Dixil Rodríguez, a college professor and volunteer hospital chaplain, lives in Texas. This article was published September 13, 2012.