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Looking back over Lents past

Mercy Sister Karen Schneider, who is a pediatrician, talks with the mother of a child in the emergency room at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 2014. (CNS photo/Bob Roller) Mercy Sister Karen Schneider, who is a pediatrician, talks with the mother of a child in the emergency room at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore in 2014.
“Faith, as Paul saw it, was a living, flaming thing leading to surrender and obedience to the commandments of Christ.”
A. W. Tozer
 
By Mary Morrell
Wellspring Communications
 
Looking back over Lents past, I have to admit my most meaningful Lenten experience happened when I spent the week before Easter in the hospital with my youngest son. It was certainly unexpected, but life doesn’t ask you if you’re prepared before it throws the unexpected your way.
 
After rushing a very ill 18-year-old to the emergency room, I spent the next eight hours waiting for a room, with nothing to do except observe what was happening around us.
 
During this time, I discovered that there really is no more fruitful place to spend some time journeying toward Easter than in the emergency room.
 
This is a place to truly experience the suffering of the cross.
 
Being present in an emergency room places a person in close proximity to the vulnerability of others. Here, amid the woundedness, amid the relationship of sufferers and caregivers, are powerful lessons to be learned.
 
Just observing how each person dealt differently with suffering was an education for me. There was the young woman, hysterical and in great pain, who was un-consolable until her husband arrived. His presence calmed her immediately.
 
Then there was a middle-aged man, involved in a car accident, who repeatedly entered into verbal warfare with a person in the room, attempting to place the blame for his injuries on someone else, as if that would make him hurt less. He made caregiving difficult.
 
But the patient who touched me the most was a little old lady, obviously suffering from some form of dementia as well as physical problems, whose repeated outbursts had the tone of a raspy voiced boxer. Time after time, throughout the course of a very long day, she called out to children who were not there, “Carol, I need my puffer!!”
 
“Carol, are you listening to me?”
 
“Carol, you’re killing me here!”
 
Obviously this woman realized she was totally dependent on others and had no choice except to surrender to their care, but she seemed also to know that surrender didn’t mean giving up the fight.
 
In fact, after one especially loud round of outbursts, a very wise nurse was heard to say, “She’s a contendah!”
 
And that she was, but to me she was also an example of the living, flame of faith that surrenders itself to God, and in so doing, gains more strength and more fire.
 
Still, every once in a while this suffering woman with the cartoon-character voice would lose her feistiness and plead with an absent son: “Help me, please, please, please!”
 
It was at those times that her anger would give way to the vulnerability that is manifest when a person acknowledges his or her needs. This is the time when true strength rises in the heart of a person, a time when we are strong enough to be humble.
 
Watching those around us in the emergency room was a reminder to me that pain is inevitable, and that the only way back to peace and joy is to walk through the pain, as Jesus did on the way to Gethsemane.
 
But a lesson was confirmed for me during what would be some very long days and nights in the hospital: The surest way though pain is with love—whether it is the self-giving of family or friends, the compassionate presence of a priest, or the exceptional care of nurses or doctors who make a person feel as if they really do matter.
 
A wise bishop once told me that Easter was the greatest love story ever told. With that in mind, it would be a blessing during this Lenten season to walk with another person through his or her suffering and see our love give rise to the amazing grace of resurrection in another’s life.
 
Submitted Article

Article selections and press releases submitted for publication with Vermont Catholic.

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