April 18, 2016

Searching the Obvious

I read the file of a new hospice patient, Jack. I met him today. He is 9 years old and loves astronomy. We spoke for hours. His hospital stay became too expensive, and a local pediatrics hospice offered its services at no charge. They even put glow-in-the-dark stars, moon, and planet stickers on the ceiling of Jack’s room.

He has gone through tough treatments. He is a fighter. On the front page of his file is a picture of Jack smiling, before his treatment. Did he know how difficult it would be?

* * *

It feels as if I have just closed my eyes when I hear a familiar sound: my phone ringing. I turn on a lamp and recognize the phone number: Jack. I glance at the clock. It’s 2:45 a.m.

“Hello?” Jack’s soft voice is sounds scared.

“Jack, what are doing up, buddy?” He tells me it has been storming all night and the windows in his room have the curtains drawn, so he can see the lightening and hear the thunder.

“I told God I’m gonna need help, but I’m gonna fight it.”

“Is it raining where you live?” He asks. I walk to the living room and peek through the curtain. I hear the rain, wind, and see the most impressive lightning. He tells me he loves to watch the rain. I smile and lean against the window, waiting to hear his story. His dad taught him about the constellations, and on clear nights they would go up on the roof of the house and look at the stars. Sometimes, if they were lucky, they would see a shooting star. His mother used to climb out the window to the roof with them, but now she mostly stays in her room and cries.

“I wish I could put a star in a jar for her so she could see it and remember that we used to watch the stars together,” he says. “We’ll do it again. Yeah, we will.”

Tears run down my face. In the absence of knowing what to say I remember that my tears are a language God understands. And tonight the Holy Spirit is urging me to comfort His child, Jack. I ask Jack to tell me what I am missing by not being able to see the stars tonight because of the rain. His voice brightens. He speaks of the cosmos, the grand universe, and tells me how stars are born. I hear him yawn. I have listened to him for an hour. Silence. Did he fall asleep?

“I’m going to fight this,” he says. “I told God I’m gonna need help, but I’m gonna fight it. I’m not scared. Can you promise that won’t forget to keep praying for me?”

There it is: A young child with hope, a desire to fight for life. He has reminded me of my job description: not as a chaplain, but as a Christian.

“One day I will walk the galaxy with my guardian angel . . .” his voice sounds drowsy.

Sleep Jack, I’ll see you tomorrow.

I wait until he hangs up the phone. I realize I am very awake.

So I sit, watch the lightening, hear the thunder. I watch Jack’s rain and pray.

Dixil Rodríguez, a university professor and volunteer chaplain, lives in Texas.