Thursday, August 23, 2012

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." 

These words are on the American declaration of independence and held very dear as words of truth by so many. Words that may be threatened and rights that seem to be being infringed upon. Since having returned home, I have been sucked into all the political rantings and outcries of many Americans to regain "Our America!" I have to admit that I joined that throng and felt compelled by the speeches, the debates, and the cries of many Americans.  
I decided to exercise some of my civil liberties in going for a bike ride without a helmet! Risky, dangerous and a bit reckless I know. In fact this act got me thinking a bit about things taken for granted. It even got me thinking about my time in England. I started to think back to a hospital visit I made at Addenbrookes. I will set the stage in telling it like a story;

I got the name on my list. I reviewed the notes on this particular patient. I recall trying to visit this patient before and they were always out. I looked forward to getting to meet this particular patient because it seemed that the chaplains had some interesting visits with the family members of the patient. I was looking forward to this opportunity to show mercy and be present in this family's pain. The patient was about my age, which was another factor that excited me. She had had brain damage from an accident and remained somewhat unresponsive. The other chaplains however visited with her family whenever they visited and said prayers and offered comfort as the accident was sudden and left their daughter in a constant state of wondering if she would ever return to a fraction of the woman, daughter, sister, worker that she once was. 

I went to her room and couldn't really prepare myself for this encounter. First off, she was in her room and I wasn't expecting this. Second she was sitting upright and appeared to be alert with no other family around. I went in and introduced myself, no response. I noticed that her head was healed and hair was growing on a part of her head where her skull had been removed. She had a concave head on one side of her head. I told her about how I read the notes and was excited to meet her because I knew we must be about the same age, no response. I told her I don't get to see many patients my age, no response. I told her that I mostly see older people, no response. I paused as I began to ask myself a million questions. I wished there was back up for situations like this. I wondered if she could hear and understand me. I wondered what she was thinking. I began to wonder if she felt annoyed by me, or if she was jealous, or angry that they sent a girl about the same age as her to offer spiritual care. I looked at the pictures on the wall and noticed a very different person before me than the one in the pictures. Her pictures showed a mobile, vibrant youthful woman who had friends, good times and went to a lot of parties. Now the woman before me seemed trapped within an immobile body incapable of articulating wants or needs. I said a prayer over her and went to go process and reflect on what I had just experienced.

When I reflected on this side of the pond on that experience, I realize that we talk a lot about rights. Why is it that my "rights" though the same as many other Americans look very different based on the fact that at the end of the day, I'm the one walking out of the hospital? I would suggest it is because in the end, God (i.e. our endowing creator) did not give us rights. He gave us gifts. Each and every day is a gift, my house, my home, land animals, wife, and children; they are all gifts! Not rights, but gifts. As I cared for the sick and dying they reminded me of every gift I have taken for granted and should take advantage of for as long as God continues to give them. I think about all the people who can't walk while I am out running. I think of all the people who just found out they have a terminal illness and whose world seems to stop as I look to my own future. I think of all the people detained in a hospital or by disease as I am able to move forward with my life. While I lament things I never had, or haven't received I remember that there is also a lot that I have been given that I don't deserve. I thank God for the gifts he gives and I pray that I don't lament the things I don't have and I remember that the all that I have is not a right but a gift. 

Psalm 146:2-4

New King James Version (NKJV)
While I live I will praise the Lord; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.  Do not put your trust in princes,Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help. His spirit departs, he returns to his earth; In that very day his plans perish.