If you hang out in a busy home-town hospital for any length of time you will begin to see a lot of people you know. Not just people who come to see your intended visitee, either. My next door neighbor’s mother was in the hospital a few doors down from Sue. Our old neighbor’s father was in last week too, but, sadly, he passed away a few days ago. He’d been living at the same alzheimer’s care facility where my mother lives. I’ve seen a few of my clients here with various ailments. And, it turns out a lot of people I know work here. Saint Agnes Medical Center is one of the largest employers in Fresno.
You meet new people too. I met Tu, in fact, whose wife is two doors down from Sue. She also has cancer. Tu and I are getting to know each other. As I mentioned, I used to work here as a janitor back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I have yet to meet anyone on staff who was working here back then. But the current staff are all real people, and they all have their own stories and their own lives and their own concerns and joys etc.
The good news for me is that I’ve been to the hospital cafeteria so many times in the past couple of weeks they’ve begun to ring me up with the employee discount. Of course, if they ask “Employee?” I tell them no, not anymore. But I don’t feel bad about taking the discount when they ring it up automatically. For one thing, Sue is contributing about $5,000 a day to the hospital coffers, and for another thing, I am a little OCD, and I do a fair amount of work picking up, tidying up and cleaning up things around the place.
Like all hospitals, Saint Agnes has a loudspeaker system. When I worked here we used to call the hospital operators and ask them to page fictitious names we’d made up. It made us laugh hysterically sometimes. One time I thought the guys were up to it again when I heard the operator page “James Bond.” Later, I met James. He was a real guy and a pretty good guy.
A new tradition they have at Saint Agnes now is that the labor and delivery unit plays a short, music-box rendition of Lullaby and Good Night over the hospital’s loud speakers every time a new baby is born here. I’m sure I’ve heard it at least fifty times over the past several weeks. Sometimes they pop them out pretty rapid-fire. I’ve heard that Lullaby three or four times in a span of 30 minutes. You see a lot of joyful people passing through the lobby, headed to the sixth floor to see the new babies.
A lot of praying goes on in hospitals. And I sure hope God is multi-lingual, because I’ve heard and participated in prayers here lately in four different languages, including English, Arabic, Hmong, and Spanish. I’ve heard stories from some of my Mennonite friends about how some of their Mennonite ancestors would only pray and sing hymns in low-German because that was the official language of God. It brings back vague memories of Bible stories, like the Tower of Babel and the story of the pentecost.
I’d say that, for honest, passionate, self-motivated prayer, hospitals might be one-up on the local churches. One of my employees, Yesenia, stopped by the other day to pray with Sue and me and one of our pastors, pastor Loren, who happened to be visiting. We prayed around a circle holding hands, and when it came her time she prayed passionately in Spanish.
I assume that all the prayers are heard, but I don’t know if all the prayers are answered. Garth Brooks has a song in which he thanks “The Man Upstairs” for unanswered prayers. If all prayers are answered, I’m pretty sure they’re not all answered in the way the pray-ers might want. But the whole spectrum is here, right here in this hospital. Prayers of thanksgiving for each new life, each new loudspeaker lullaby. Prayers of the concerns of ordinary people. Petitions for forgiveness and absolution for what we’ve done that we know wasn’t right. Prayers of petition for healing and mercy for each sick and injured person. Prayers of thanks for miracles and answered prayers. Prayers for what we want that we know we probably won’t get. And prayers of grief and sorrow for those who pass on.
And somehow I think that’s what God intended with these hospital moments of our lives. That we step away, for a time, from the routine, temporal daily tasks that consume us, and focus for a moment on our eternal, divine creator.