Friday, March 6, 2015

The Loud Speaker Dirge

The overhead speaker at a hospital sings. Its song is of life and death. It can rush staff to a stopped heart when calling out its codes, and it can warm hearts still beating when it plays that little nursery rhyme jingle at every birth. The speaker reminds us that within slivers of time and moments of space lives begin and lives end. I had a patient named John. He was the kind of guy you either loved or hated, most hated. He was gruff and sarcastic, hilarious and often mean. Years of disease wrapped a barbed wire around his tender heart. He struggled with illness for what seemed like ages, and for ages John drove everyone around him nuts. That is, until his grandson was born. The birth of the child did not extend John’s life. No, the 52-year old died three months later. The birth of this child did, however, allow John to die peacefully. This child, this squirming little ball of neediness and love, let John know, in unbroken flesh, that there was more to life than his death. After the birth, John’s anger gave way to gratitude, cruelty to kindness. John was a man without any faith, but the birth of this child gave his last days meaning. The new life that entered this world allowed John to leave it. Life itself opened the door for John to die well. If we leave out the great by and by, set aside notions of what comes after this world, all we are left with is the hospital speakers. The call to attend the dying and the encouragement to rejoice at new birth. For John and perhaps for all of us, that is enough. So when our task grows hard, when it seems the only song that plays is the funeral dirge, may we remember that somewhere hospital speakers are playing their happy little jingle. There is always new life.

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