By Dale Carroll-Coleman
Each Thursday I travel west, along the university streets, past the towering gray football stands, empty. Football ended on Oct. 2, 1970, when a plane carrying 36 members of the Wichita State University team crashed into a mountain on its way to Utah.
You send your son to college, excited to play ball and then.
I arrive at a towering, sterile building; gray against a sky a darker version.
The secret is in the middle. A beautiful Catholic chapel surrounded by imposing walls. How it was decided to build contrasting walls around the warmth of a chapel? It appears the chapel is without breath, closed in, as a city building smothers a delicate neighbor.
Perhaps the chapel gives breath through the walls, into those who need peace and comfort. Changing the gray of the walls and faces inside, to the color of hope.
On this day I offer a hand, a word as part of chaplain services at this hospital in Wichita.
Not enough priests, pastors to see all who enter. This building of healing is filled with lonely, broken people, similar to those outside.
I see 30 patients on this day, the hospital nearing full capacity. By evening I am tired, feeling a mix of sadness and joy.
My goal is to offer support, hope. Some visits quick, a few words of encouragement ... some from my lips. Often from others.
My surgeon husband spends his life trying to fix people on the inside, yet he knows there are hurts he can't cut deep enough to remove, to cure, to heal.
He believes I look forward to this day.
I tell him there are weeks I would rather skip this day. It would be easier to stay home, read a book, walk the dog, schedule a root canal.
No one likes hospitals, least of all me. My most despairing memories occurred in hospitals.
I lived 10 months in hospitals, without hope. Nurses refusing eye contact, unable or unwilling to offer a personal touch or word. I don't judge them. Taking care of a young dying husband, soon-to-be father was hard for all of us. Hope came from outside those walls. Maybe I can offer a patient, or wife, hope.
I have no fancy degrees allowing me to diagnose your body, though I have a desire to get to matters of the heart. I care about the deep, hard things of life.
I meet wealthy, homeless, young, others exhaling life's last breath. People with quick minds, telling jokes, others asking awkward things, some asking me to leave.
One gentleman thanks me for allowing his partner to stay with him overnight. I recognize the bravery this took, his hesitation, reading my badge Chaplain Services. Do I represent judgment to him in this moment when I desire grace and mercy. I smile, telling him I'm glad it helped.
The sweet woman in her 90s, hair neatly done, resting in her private room, flowers, cards, drawings by great-grands. The family out looking at assisted-living options. She is one of the fortunate ones. This woman is well-loved. I ask if I can pray with her. She grabs my hand and smiles yes. This woman makes my job easy, yet my eyes fill up in this moment.
I visit the woman wishing for her bottle. The patient tired of the fight, ready to go home ... to God. Battle-scarred, feeling ruined and weary.
Those in pain from unknown causes, waiting for answers ... some with family support, others alone.
I am unprepared for this.
I see the kind gentleman from last week. I smile, realizing he does not remember me. Today his daughter sits with him, last week a son.
We had laughed and joked a week before, then prayed, holding hands. First me, then him. He prayed a beautiful prayer. I left his room smiling.
Now he is disturbed to have forgotten. I assure him this is common during a hospital stay. His daughter explains they are looking for a rehab facility.
Ah, I see. I do not like these places that are so necessary.
Some patients allow me a picture into their lives, others are closed tight. Many times tears fall easily. Many of them mine. Shouldn't you have tougher skin for this job?
The homeless man, anxious not to be sent back to the street, bruised and sore from a beating last night.
He tells me he met Jesus in 1979 and still believes, but he wishes God would give him clearer instructions. Life has not been easy.
I walk to the next bed, the doctors enter, telling my new friend he will be discharged. They smile, trying to cheer him, reassuring him they will provide medications. He is frantic with fear.
I am unprepared for this and feel defeated. God, please hear our prayers for this man.
I hear thanks often. I have changed nothing, offered no great remedy, there is still gratefulness. Perhaps for acknowledging a person's worth to the world.
God created us for relationships with him and one another. It happens in moments. We witness this in tragedies and joys. It matters not our differences where we come from, how we earn a living, level of education. We are different, but created equal, in the image of God. He creates community in any circumstance, within the most imposing, cheerless, gray walls and we find hope.
Dale Carroll-Coleman is a freelance writer who blogs at http://www.majorinthegraceofgod.blogspot.com. She and her husband spent 16 years in Champaign, where they raised two children. They now reside in Wichita, Kan., and Nashville, Tenn., where she practices the art of gratitude. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.