Over the past couple of weeks we have spent considerable time in two different hospitals with my wife’s dad; worrying, stewing, encouraging, teasing, laughing, crying, sitting, and walking as they have tried to figure out what to do, when to do it, where to do it. A hospital is an interesting, wearying, exhausting place to be whether one is a patient, visitor, hospital worker, and or family. Waiting is a draining task.
I have tended to deal with the drain through exercise in the form of walking, walking the halls. I have walked in the midst of patient rooms, a variety of intensive care units, waiting rooms, family rooms, administrative offices, chaplain offices, lobbies, and cafeterias. I have navigated around nurses, doctors, office workers, patients, family, visitors, and people I, for many obvious reasons, have no clue who they were, and medical equipment. I have seen tears, smiles, and the seriousness of sober thought. I have heard the sounds of sickness, laughter, screaming, and uncontrollable sobbing. A hospital is a place of the highs of the mountaintop and the dreaded lows in the deepest of valleys.
It is a sacred place filled with all the human emotions of feeling and struggle possible. It is a sacred place filled with the laughter, tears, struggle, suffering, joy, and heartache of God. This place of healing of mind, body, and spirit … healing though not just in the physical sense but perhaps healing of the senses… healing of the spirit … a healing of God, so to speak, or at least a healing of the image of God. I wonder … in the context of my wanderings in the “halls of medicine,” I see the image of God in whom we are created … the image of a hurting, suffering, laughing, crying, chuckling, weeping, and surprising God … a God of vulnerability, a vulnerable God if you will.
Where else in our lives can we be so vulnerable as we find ourselves in the hospital bed or in the chair waiting on the one in the bed. Whether we are wrapped in one of those open backed hospital gowns, bare butt mooning the world or sitting in a chair beside a bed yearning for good news, yearning for any news , caught between unyielding hope and crushing loss.
We don’t do vulnerable well, we humans, but I have to wonder in the midst of that if such highs and lows and all that is in the middle is what it means to be fully human … vulnerable … and in the midst of that I wonder if we don’t always do God so well either.
I am reminded of that as I sit in the room next to my father-in-law’s bed. He is of that generation. You know the one, the Greatest Generation, the one on which Tom Brokaw wrote his bestselling book. I haven’t read the book, perhaps one day I will, perhaps because of my place here in this chair beside the bed of one who lived it, perhaps I will now.
Sometimes, one looking from the outside in, his manner and matter of fact, no nonsense speaking can be seen and heard as gruff, harsh, and uncaring. But sitting here beside his bed I have had a revelation of sorts, though I suspect it is something I have known all along. I understand now, at least I have convinced myself without confiding in him, it is about life experience and how our lives shape and mold us. It is a revelation of a generation, yes; I suppose even the greatest of them. I suspect I would be much the same as he, perhaps even, suspect I would hope to be the same as he, of course with the exception of needing open heart surgery!
Here is this guy, this WWII vet laying in a hospital bed learning each day of something else, some reason they couldn’t do this procedure but could this one, only to learn the next day they could not do that one, but maybe a different one. I watched this one I know as stubborn and hard headed take the decisions in stride, disappointed yes, but open and willing to do what needed to be done. His matter of fact attitude and willingness to “do what needed to be done” is exemplary of his generation, of him.
Joining the Navy when he was really too young to do so, this man has seen and heard and experienced things I cannot begin to imagine and really do not have a lot of interest in trying to imagine in my mind’s eye. He is a practical and matter of fact kind of guy. He wants honest pay for an honest day’s work, he is generous to a fault, constantly telling us stories of helping someone out when they needed a hand. Stories not to brag about it, but simply as a statement of his life, a statement that simply says, “This is the way things ought to be, it’s the right thing to do!”
I suspect it is just those experiences that have shaped his disdain for nonsense and wasted time. He just doesn’t seem to have time for such things. I suspect his experiences have taught him to live in this moment, to not waste time with silly political, religious, or other platitudes and arguments, they are a waste of time and we don’t have much time on this good green earth. I suspect, for one who has seen and heard the things he has seen and heard, nonsense and the like are a waste of the gift of life. I suspect those experiences and his life have shaped his sharp wit and sense of humor as well. He always has a comeback or an unexpected comment that brings a smile, chuckle, or an unabashed belly laugh, his timing is incredible, which is simply another witness to his appreciation of life in its fullness, in the “now-ness” of it all.
He is stubborn, but in a good independent way, a way that says he doesn’t want anyone worrying about or over him, although he takes exception to that when he chooses to worry about others, I guess at 83 he has that right, more power to him! I have watched over the past couple of weeks that tough exterior melt away in glimpses of that tremendous soft heart he has. It has periodically bubbled up and over flowed with a word caught in his throat followed by a tear or two. That stubbornness is borne out of his hard working life that simply wants to provide for his family and himself, and on be his own as long has he can.
That stubbornness is matched, no it is exceeded, only by his fierce love of his family, his four girls and his grandkids, I suspect even his son in laws though I would never ask him to confirm that out loud. But that love is evident in his calm spirit and concern and those moments that are only shared between a father and his daughter[s]. It is sacred time; it is the essence of love, borne of a willingness to lay one’s life down for something larger and more important than self.
I see that in my dad in law, that self sacrificing nature of that Greatest of generations. Shortly after his admission to the hospital one of his doctors noted he is a Vet and then proceeded to thank him for his [Dad’s] service and his [the doctor’s freedom], it was a moment in the truest sense of the word.
So here I am sitting in the waiting room at the hospital while the doctors have that heart, that huge heart, literally in their hands and am thankful. That that guy has put up with me for 30 some years now, thankful for a guy who participated in one of the most difficult times of our country, who has, not unlike these halls I walk now, seen the extremes of life, the mountaintop of joy and the valleys of heartache, and everything in the middle, thankful for a vet whose work and service provides me with the opportunity to sit and write as I please, thankful for the stalwart, yet vulnerable, resolve of the one who help raise my wife into the loving person she is, thankful for this man, this Vet, this father, this Dad. I think I will read the book, I am sure it is worthwhile, … though, I think now, I may already know what it says.