Hospital Notes #1: You’re a bigger deal than you think.

Keeping with the theme of last week’s post, I’ve been doing some naming in the hospital. Naming is so powerful, and yet so simple. I’m developing the habit to sincerely state what I see when I see it. In the children’s hospital where I work as a chaplain, in the pediatric intensive care unit, that usually sounds something like this:

“You’re doing a hard thing. I see you.”

A common response from these parents is “What choice do I have?”

In the face of utter terror, most parents can’t look away. In the exhaustion of the intensive care room with its million midnight interruptions, so many parents will not leave that child’s side. In the dizzying decision tree of what will happen next, they are almost always asking relevant questions every time the doctors round. In the quiet moments with me wondering if they are taking care of themselves, they are forever focused on just one thing.

“What choice do I have?” There is a fatalism in the question, a devotion, a madness, a beauty — a thousand emotions and modifiers all springing forth from one root: love.

In fact, they do have a choice. They have a million choices, but it certainly seems like they don’t. How amazing is that?

Here’s another sincerely stated something I see: The entire universe is shaped by love. You can go to Genesis to believe it, but I can see it in the hospital rooms where parents are daily deciding to persevere in love.

Just because the choice comes naturally does not mean it isn’t beautiful or absolutely lovely. Just because it seems like it’s nothing doesn’t mean it isn’t absolutely everything. How marvelous, that the world is the way it is! How breath-taking that mothers and fathers love! The fact that it is “mere” cooperation with the breathtakingly marvelous should not exclude such parents from highest honors and esteem. They have chosen to remain within the pattern of good built into their bones. They have chosen to demonstrate the dearest love-life at the center of all things. Wow, what a human! Phew, how she mothers! Ah, how he fathers!

The occasional anomaly in this arena are the parents who because of even more difficulties outside of the hospital or earlier in their lives, cannot be near their little loved one in the pediatric intensive care unit. These situations hurt me because I know the hearts of those parents must be severely wrenched and torn. Indifference is unlikely. And the certainty with which I presume in these anomalies is founded once again on that central Fact: love at the center. And the circle of admiration is re-spun round the halos of these ordinary saints who insist they have no choice.

Now here’s the word for those of you who aren’t parents, or for those of you who don’t think your parental love qualifies because your child has never been so sick:

You don’t think you’re that big of a deal, but deal with it. You’re a big deal. You’re a bigger deal than you probably think.

How? you ask, can I be so sure? Precisely because so many of these men and women who truly are experiencing something extraordinary so extraordinarily are always saying, “What choice do I have?” It’s not that I already know that everyone is great, or I’m really good at ignoring the bad. It’s not rose-colored glasses or practiced denial. Too many people aren’t seeing themselves! Maybe none of us are. It’s like we have whatever the opposite of rose-colored vision might be (would it be sea foam?). It is because so many people I meet are slow to see their rosiness that I must be sure to keep saying the simple beauties I see.

In English, I don’t often say “I esteem you.” I think I can say that, but I don’t. It sounds better to me in Spanish, “Te estimo,” but I am not a native speaker, so y’all that are, let me know. Since “I am Special Day” in elementary school, “esteem” seems to be exclusively hyphen-hitched to “self.” My project is not the same. Despite the nineties’ best efforts, I do not think Usonian culture has produced any higher percentage of people with healthy self-esteem. Our egos are warped in new ways, perhaps, but health eludes. Nonetheless, though I might not know you, “Te estimo”, I am sure, in one way or another. In many circumstances, I am sure you shine. This is not to puff you up, pep you up, or pick you up. My faith is not in you foundationally, but it is still in you, and thank you for showing it off when you do. I need whatever faith I can get in my life.

I state my esteem for you because I believe that we too, even as strangers, can participate in the love-life of all things, the center of the universe, God, whenever we love. Love makes things lovely. Loving makes me a lover. My love makes you beloved again. Our love makes love a little more alive. That’s a big deal.

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