I AM WRITING IN A HOSPITAL ROOM.
I am sitting in one of those uncomfortable vinyl chairs that convert into an uncomfortable vinyl guest bed. Just a few feet from me sleeps my wife. She’s minus one gallbladder. We’ve been here for four days (almost 100 hours). Denalyn is recovering well. But because of the medication she’s sleepy most of the time, so I’ve had a good opportunity to do some observing. And I’ve come to a conclusion. And since she is asleep and the nurse doesn’t seem too conversant, I think I’ll write down my conclusion. Want to read it?
A hospital is a microcosm of the world.
Why? Let me explain.
On the surface, a hospital appears to be a great place. The sheets are clean and the staff is friendly. Nurses come and go with warm smiles. Doctors periodically appear wearing nice loafers, a tie, and a kind face. Friends and family visit bringing pretty plants and friendly words.
There’s a curiously large number of smiles here. I’ve walked the halls and been greeted by the smiling Candy Stripers pushing the coffee cart. The gift shop downstairs is full of magazines with smiling people on the covers. The lady selling them smiled broadly at me when I bought one. The receptionist at the front desk smiles when you pass by.
Along with the smiles and the comfort is the escape hatch. The TV is placed near the ceiling and through it you can climb into the outside world. Just flip the switch and you are riding on the Love Boat or watching the Yankees game.
Smiles, efficiency, distraction. I’ve seen some resorts that don’t offer this kind of treatment. My, you almost forget where you are.
In fact, were it not for the undisguiseable reminders, you would forget. But just when you relax—just when you begin to smile to yourself, just when you giggle at Bill Cosby—a siren reminds you. The scream of the patient next door reminds you. Paramedics rushing a stretcher toward the emergency room remind you.
And the reminder is sobering. This is a hospital. The sole function of this building is to bargain with death. The walls can’t be white enough nor the staff polite enough to hide the stark reality of the bottom line: People come here to give all they have to postpone the inevitable.
We give it our best shot. We put up the best we have—the best technology, the best minds, the best equipment; and yet, at best we walk away with an extension, never a solution. And though we may walk or be wheeled out with smiles and waves of victory, down deep we know it is just a matter of time until the best we have won’t be enough and the enemy will conquer.
So a hospital is a paradoxical place. A place where the reality is hidden, yet can’t be hidden because the reality is too real.
You saw the same today in your world, didn’t you? The script was the same; only the props were different. That’s why I reached my conclusion—our world is identical to a hospital. Have you ever noticed the endless extremes to which a person will go to hide the realities of life?
Take age for example. Do you know anyone who has not aged? Do you know anyone who is younger today than when you met him? Aging is a universal condition. But the way we try to hide it, you would think it was a plague!
There are girdles which compact the middle-age spread for both sexes. There are hair transplants, wigs, toupees, and hair pieces. Dentures bring youth to the mouth, wrinkle cream brings youth to the face, and color in a bottle brings youth to the hair.
All to hide what everyone already knows—we’re getting older.
Death is another lump in the carpet. We don’t like it. (If you ever want to stall a conversation at a party just say, “How are you feeling about your approaching death?” It won’t put much life into the conversation.)
I have a friend who has cancer. At present the cancer is in remission. Recently he had to go to the doctor for a physical. A nurse, apparently unaware of his condition, was asking him questions for his medical record. “Are you presently ill?”
“Well, yes. I have cancer.”
She dropped her pencil and looked up at him. “Are you terminal?” she asked.
“Yes, aren’t we all?”
You’d think we weren’t, the way the subject is kept hush-hush.
We also try to disguise ourselves. It’s wild. People from the country try to look like they’re from the city and people from the city try to look like they’re from the country. We change our accents, change our noses; we even try to change our names—all to avoid facing who we are.
But this obsession with fleeing the facts is as maddening as it is futile. For, as in the case of the hospital, the truth always surfaces. A siren sounds causing reality to shock us out of our sleep.
An old college roomie retires and you have to admit that if he is in the autumn of his life, you must be too.
You walk your daughter down the aisle. “When did she grow up?”
You wake up in an emergency room to the beeping of a machine and find wires suction-cupped to your chest.
Be the event pleasant or painful, the result is the same. Reality breaks through the papier-mâché mask and screams at you like a Marine drill sergeant. “You are getting old! You are going to die! You can’t be someone you are not!”
The props are kicked away and you tumble head over feet, crashing onto the hard floor of the facts of life. You might as well turn off the TV and take off the new outfit. Reality has reared its head like the Loch Ness monster and you can no longer deny its existence.
The best thing for you to do now is pause and think. Take a good look at the facts. And while you’re looking at them, it would be wise to take a good look at him. To those perched on the peak of Mount Perspective, His Majesty takes on special significance.
Jesus does his best work at such moments. Just when the truth about life sinks in, his truth starts to surface. He takes us by the hand and dares us not to sweep the facts under the rug but to confront them with him at our side.
Aging? A necessary process to pass on to a better world.
Death? Merely a brief passage, a tunnel.
Self? Designed and created for a purpose, purchased by God himself.
There, was that so bad?
Funerals, divorces, illnesses, and stays in the hospital—you can’t lie about life at such times. Maybe that’s why he’s always present at such moments.
The next time you find yourself alone in a dark alley facing the undeniables of life, don’t cover them with a blanket, or ignore them with a nervous grin. Don’t turn up the TV and pretend they aren’t there. Instead, stand still, whisper his name, and listen. He is nearer than you think.