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When a person is down and out, feeling sorry for himself or herself, and wondering if life is worth living after all, it’s a grace to meet others who are in a similar situation but have a completely different response to it.
I was that person. There are days when I still am that person, but I wanted to share with you the marvelous blessings I received when I entered the physical rehabilitation section of New Hanover Hospital for the first time.
The room was buzzing with optimism. I could feel it in the air. Smiling therapists viewed those entering the room as friends and family, not patients. There was only one attitude that was forbidden. It was a negativity that emerged in the words, “I can’t do it.” Those four words were not allowed, no matter how difficult the task appeared. Instead, one was advised to say, “I’ll try with your help.”
That message was universally delivered. It was addressed to double amputees as well as stroke victims, to young people and senior citizens, to a man who sustained numerous gun shot wounds as he innocently grilled his dinner in his backyard. Here was a person who could easily be angry with God and the world. Instead, he viewed his condition as a message God was sending to him and others, a message of dependence on divine assistance.
I literally drank in the presence of God that pervaded Easy Street (the main avenue of the therapy room) and its environs. There was no way that I could maintain a “poor ole me” attitude when faced with others who were more debilitated than I.
I faced a woman whose constant smiling gave me hope despite the fact that her demeanor was also evidence of a damaged brain. Another companion was a woman who sought me out after she first saw me in the therapy room. She asked if I would join her for lunch. My initial reaction was to say “No” and remain in my isolation; however, I could not do it. Reluctantly, I sat next to her and listened to her story.
She was as eager as I to return to her homestead. Her discharge date indicated she had a long road to go before home would happen. In addition to a colectomy, she contracted a flesh-eating disease. That meant hair loss and serious debilitation. Yet, I noticed one day she had applied makeup and looked lovely. Once again, hope surged. Here was a woman whose motto might well have been, “Though broken, yet brave.”
Amputees of all sorts engaged in the retraining of their bodies to accommodate loss. All this occurred at the same time that Wimbledon’s challenge was televised. I could not help but notice the grunting that accompanied the tennis contestants’ serves and volleys. In the therapy room, there were no grunts, just concentrated efforts and accompanying affirmations. “Good job!” was a constant voice in the air.
Hubby Dear came to therapy with me, filling with tears the first time he saw me walk with a walker but otherwise unassisted. “I never thought I’d see you walk again,” he said. He also commented on the fact we take so much for granted in life. Sitting, standing, walking, running, making meals, doing laundry are all simple tasks to which we give little heed. In this room, they became challenges to meet and master.
Little by little, stories were shared. There were therapists whose own lives contained tragedies that were overcome. One woman spoke of her husband who was in Iraq when she delivered their premature baby, a lovely little girl who still has a pouch that must be drained.
The time spent in the neonatal section of the hospital burned compassion into this young mother, a virtue she lavished upon the people in her care. I remembered the Buddhist doctor in Florence who ended each visit with me with these words, “I am praying for you to get better.”
As I endured setbacks and was sent to the medical section of New Hanover Hospital, I listened to others and learned from them. It was an experience of a universal church uninhibited by denominational tracts. I was touched, literally, by a nurse who kissed my head each time she entered the room.
Her touch was repeated in words of affirmation by the various doctors who examined me. I found it more than coincidental that one of them bore the name, Church!
Another came to see me late in the evening when an unexpected bleed occurred. Before leaving, he asked if he could pray with me. His prayer was profound, coming from the heart of one who knew God. His practicality was equally evident as he phoned my husband to tell him that all would be well. This call was followed by one he made to the nurses’ station to let them know Hubby Dear had arrived home safely, a message I should receive.
Too frequently, we look to Mother Teresa, or Gandhi, or Martin Luther King for examples of saintly people who gave their life as sacrifice for all. Our sights are set high and that is admirable; however, we cannot ignore our own call from God. We cannot dismiss the reality that it is from the fullness of God’s grace that we have received one blessing after another.
Those blessings come in a variety of guises and disguises. We are required to take a second look at life, all of life, to know God’s presence when absence had previously clouded our vision.
Admittedly, I am learning of these blessings the hard way. In the midst of the difficulty, anger, frustration, and tears, there is God. This is a message that cannot be limited to words alone. It is a message that makes me, and you, messengers of hope, love, and trust. It is the message that makes us blessings for a world steeped in cynicism and negativity.