Recently, as I walked by a bulletin board in a hospital unit, a postcard caught my attention. The postcard contained a painted representation of Jesus walking, surrounded by a crowd. Some people had bandages, tattered clothes, bruises; some had beautiful garments, scrolls; most had extended hands, as if reaching for Jesus. I noticed that everyone seemed to be speaking, their mouths open. The image appears to be cropped from a bigger picture. The edges allude to the possibility of “more” to this image. At the center of the crowd Jesus stands calmly, as if listening to every voice.
I’m not certain why this image enters my mind as I attempt to match the speed of the EMT pushing the gurney into an empty bay inside the emergency room. I can’t slow down; she’s reached for my hand. I feel as if I am running right through the middle of that postcard scene, praying to catch up to the miracle. Amid ambient noise, I hear the patient’s muffled voice through a mask. I listen and nod, offering a physical affirmation. These days it is difficult to comfort someone with a smile. I do not know this woman. I heard she was “one of the family.” In an emergency that is a welcome title: “we remember you.”
I feel as if I am running right through the middle of that postcard scene.
Her hand trembles. “I am Mara.” I listen, but that has much to do with the fact that I have nothing left to say. A long and heavy 24-hour on-call shift has left me silent. God, I just need to get through this last visit. We pray before she is taken to surgery.
Two days later I find Mara. She tells me which beach to visit. I must watch the haze lift, she says, to genuinely appreciate the beauty of the Pacific. She served as a social worker in several nearby hospitals. Some cases were so difficult that memories still walk next to her on occasion, companions from the past.
“We are not good people,” she says. “We are fortunate to know God loves us.” We talk for a while, then she asks what the pandemic has taught me. Taught? I can barely remember how life used to be.
I am familiar with fear; I know its features, and I have discovered power in displacing it with prayer. I see desperation and try to feed it hope. I have witnessed brokenness and learned humility in picking up shattered life pieces for those who cannot do it for themselves. I see the emotional ledge people step on when their loved one walks into the hospital alone, no visitors allowed, and question the silence: what happens now? I have learned to lean in, step forward in faith, because my only certainty is that our heavenly Father is with us. Then, for some odd reason, I tell her about the postcard. I wonder what everyone is saying around Jesus. Mara agrees: there must be a bigger picture.
A week later I sit on a trail overlooking the beach. As the haze lifts, I see the beauty. One daywe will understand the bigger picture. The haze will be lifted, and we will be amazed at how precious we are to Jesus in this very moment.
Dixil Rodríguez serves as a hospital chaplain in southern California.