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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rehashing Advent: the dark, the light and the Hallelujah

The story of the darkest parts of my Advent seems disheartening.
But the truth is that the moments of Light far outnumbered those two dark weekends.

The Light
"They're here!" The supervisor is smiling. I'm munching on chocolate covered pretzels and trying to finish my charts while planning report for the next shift. I'm mentally preparing a list for the next morning, "find G. a coat," "remind W. to fast for blood labs," "urine test results for S."

"Ah! Already?" I start munching and documenting faster. My shift is over but I'm staying late because of the guests who have just arrived in the second floor patient lobby. I need to get down there.

I step off the elevator and walk around the corner to the Atrium. The snow on the windows is glowing, reflecting the many lights from inside. The angel at the top of the Christmas tree oversees the scene, as a few patients mill about and some take seats in rockers and on couches. Denny, the street team NP is talking to a group of children, two of them her own, while her husband tunes his guitar.

When the music starts and the children begin to sing, everyone is silent at first, but then one by one they join in the singing. Slowly the room fills with more and more people. Nurses, aides, and patients leave what they're doing and gather around to listen to the carols. Although the music is mostly upbeat ("We Wish You a Merry Christmas," and "Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer,") I see many of the men and women wiping at their eyes clandestinely. I wonder how many of them see themeselves or their own kids in the bright, innocent faces.
The nurse next to me wipes her eyes. The housekeeper wipes his eyes. I wipe mine.

The children do Silent Night, a request from a tired but happy looking woman sitting on a couch with her friends. Then they sing a few songs from The Sound of Music before launching into a rendition of Jingle Bells with a second verse they wrote themselves about getting injured while skiiing. Their lyrics elicit genuine laughs and delighted applause from their audience.

At that point my chest began to ache. I pressed my hands to my sternum as hard as I could. I felt so much love and so much hope that I could barely breathe. I looked around at everyone gathered. People from all walks of life, different faith backgrounds, varying degrees of hardship, tragedy and trauma. I was suddenly very, very sure of God's presence.
And I knew we were all going to be ok. In that moment I wasn't worried about whether I had gotten to church on time last week. I understood completely that God doesn't "love" as a verb alone. God is love.
When those kids started singing and we all joined in, our world stopped for a few minutes. The patients stopped smoking or watching tv or doing laundry. The nurses stopped charting and pouring and reading and fussing. Jim stopped sweeping. The security guard put down his newspaper. And like the Whos of Whoville we joined all our different voices in song. And in that song there was love. And where the love is, there is God. And in that moment, I became sure of it.

I continue to watch the patients in the crowd. In the corner a man in a hospital johnny appears to not be listening. His eyes are far away and trained on the ceiling. But he is tapping his foot. Beside me a small woman who has seen three friends pass away in the past two month, (all of them patients of ours) grabs at my arm with one hand and rubs her eyes with the other. "It's been a hard year," she whispers, not for the first time. "Every time I get my life on track someone else dies."
The nurse next to me whispers back, "it's time for a new beginning ... a fresh start."

Yes. Yes. Yes.

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