Sometimes, winter, a season filled with mostly grey skies and bare trees evokes a sense of gloom. This time of shadowy days matched my mood as the new year began. I spent New Year’s Eve in a hospital room. I felt deflated as I watched television—the ball drop, people kissing and champagne flowing from bottles. Unfortunately, my formal wear for the evening was a hospital gown accessorized with an IV. No matter where I looked, I couldn’t generate the exuberance that is often associated with New Year’s.
I complained bitterly about the uncomfortable bed and the constant interruptions often during the middle of the night—to take blood or check my vitals. Frequently, like an apparition, a strange voice barked through the intercom awakening me during my futile attempts to sleep. Apparently crossed up telemetry wires led the voice to inquire loudly, “Is anyone there?” rather than directing a nurse or nursing assistant to check on me. I wondered how I would ever recover from the awful cold virus that held my body hostage if I was getting only 2-3 hours of sleep each night. As I continued to ruminate about my state of discontent and medically unnecessary hospital stay, my young African American evening nurse offered another perspective with her response, “But we would have never met and we wouldn’t have all the conversations that I needed so badly.”
Surprised and shocked, my mind quieted. Deep below the chatter of my petulant complaints a small voice added, “Maybe this trip to the hospital isn’t just about you. It could be serving a larger purpose.” I thought back to my older, Euro American daytime nurse and our discussions around her potential retirement. When I mentioned that I had stopped working nearly five years ago, she brightened when I suggested the book, The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 by Sarah Lawrence-Lightfoot. “I am going online and download it tonight,” she noted. “I am really struggling with this decision and I think reading that book will help me out.” Here was another exchange that would not have occurred if I had not been admitted to the hospital.
My next opportunity to express my dissatisfaction came when wrapped in several sheets and a blanket I sat shivering in a wheel chair outside one of the echocardiogram rooms. Inwardly I wailed about how my miserable cold landed me in the hospital for two and a half days for an echocardiogram! My inner agitation added to the chill in the air. I asked myself, as the standard issued hospital gown with hospital socks and the blanket began quickly losing their heat, “Why aren’t they taking me, what is the delay?” Then it occurred to me that the staff might be working with a patient much sicker than me. After all, I could walk around and although I suffered with a very bad cold, I wasn’t short of breath or retaining fluids. Besides, I was going home in a few hours so what was the rush? Once again, I remembered that the current situation wasn’t just about me.
As I moved back into my own bed at home with many more days to recover, in the silence that surrounded me I began to reflect on how often I, like many others, focus mostly on myself; on my schedule, my life, and my family. I frequently observe drivers swerving in and out of lanes, causing others to brake suddenly so they can arrive at church “on time.” I am guilty as well of rushing to arrive at a doctor’s appointment only to sit in a waiting room for 10-20 minutes. Like my compatriots, I stand impatiently in the grocery store checkout line, or at the post office, thinking about the time I am wasting. And to what purpose I ask inwardly would I devote this precious lost time if I could regain it? Would it be used to sit with a sick friend or spend more time on Instagram or Facebook, to bake dinner for the widow next door or binge watch the latest popular television show? Had I ever thought to surrender in any given moment my nicely covered egocentrism in favor of a plan that worked best for everyone, for people that I may not even know?
I pondered about how I arrived at this place on my journey where my desires reign supreme and occupy my mind throughout the day. Reflecting on my past, I remember being more thoughtful as a child, helping mostly my Mom by starting or cooking dinner for my family, a unit that operated best when everyone worked together. My family served as a microcosm for the many more communities I would belong to; my classroom where I helped other students with assignments, my school by selling candy to fund field trips, my neighborhood where we took care of each other through crises like job losses, divorces, and deaths, my country by voting and volunteering and my world by praying and lightening my carbon footprint with recycling and using less water. Had I lost this caring spirit that encourages me to move beyond “me” to “we” or does it remain within patiently waiting for an opportunity to emerge?
When I pause and think about how I might move beyond my self-centered motives, or combine what I need with the needs of others, I feel more peace and joy. I also feel a sense of wholeness. Yet I know such thinking and actions require me to surrender my little self to a much larger one.
As the year continues, I hope to inspire others to reflect on the primacy of self sometimes to the detriment of the common good and how different it feels to live from a more expansive life view. I know there is something special about living from an inner sanctuary that allows me to experience how interconnected we are and helps me to feel more Peace and Joy in my heart. What about you, what might you need to surrender to feel more of the Peace and Joy that resides in your heart?
Photo courtesy of Columbus H. Brown, Candid Imagery Fine Arts