The sounds of an emergency room are unmistakable. The swift footsteps of nurses as they hurry into a room. Machines beeping an urgent rhythm as they track heartbeat, pressure, and the flow of medicines. Doctors issuing orders. And all the while, loved ones endure an anguished wait.
As a volunteer chaplain at our local hospital, I am on-call for a weekend every month so that our hard-working chaplain can take a much-needed break. When a call comes in, I know it will be urgent. Often it is a family requesting a priest who can administer last rites. I used to explain to the nurse on the phone that I was not a priest and therefore was no in position to offer Catholic sacraments. But over the years I have learned that most people yearn for any assurance that God is with them in a time of crisis. Even when the person delivering that assurance is a female Protestant minister.
Early in the morning, I huddled with a family, separated from their loved one only by a thin floor to ceiling curtain. We could hear the effort that was being put in to save this particular life. Calm but urgent voices counted CPR beats as carts were wheeled in to supply additional support.
And then – silence. Talking stopped. Machines were turned off. The hurried steps of these brave first responders ceased. The curtain was drawn back and the dreaded sentence was spoken, “I’m sorry; we did everything we could.”
That’s when grace enters in. Suddenly these strangers became the first comforters. Nurses came to offer hugs. Doctors stopped to offer condolences. The ambulance driver brought in chairs so the overwhelmed family could rest. Someone offered coffee, another brought in a pitcher of water. This was compassion brought to life.
Names were not necessary. In that moment kindness ruled. Everyone was aware that this was someone’s mother. Someone who had made breakfasts for decades and worried when her children came home late. Someone who played cards with neighbors and was always ready to offer a cup of coffee and a listening ear.
And now she was gone. Just like that. With no warning.
Tears ran down cheeks of people who may not have even known her name. Strangers gave hugs. And the family received comfort.
Living kindness and offering compassion is what we are called to do as human beings. The need for love is greater than all that divides us. Thoughts of which political figure was supported or disdained disappeared. We were just people together, confronting the fragility of life.
In that moment of life and death, love prevailed. Compassion, care and comfort were freely given.
It reminded me of how we are meant to live – with the ability to care for our brothers and sisters around us. Even the ones we may not know.