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Some machine’s alarm repeatedly would sound off sending an annoying beep interrupting our conversation. I would rise, bend around the hospital curtain, turn the alarm off only to wait till it went off again. The nurse still hadn’t come. Returning to our chat, he sitting on the side of his bed and I in a chair facing him, the window provided our center with its panoramic views of the cityscape flooding the room with sunlight, a kind salve to a cold and blustery day. He is dying. Has been for many months now, the chemo and radiation the only thing keeping him alive. Although this hospital stint is a minor one, not immediately related to the cancer but rather a blood clot. He’ll be home by tonight, or hopefully tomorrow.
All this merely sets the scene, details of varying or even, perhaps, no importance at all. So what is important? Is it the God we worship, the faith that we share? He is an elder of the Great Consistory. He has served the church. He has lived his call. Is living it. I am suppose to say something of profound spiritual significance here. But nope. We converse for well over an hour. It is not until the end when someone comes to transport him to further medical tests that my clerical duties gain any import.
So what is important?
Nearly an hour and a half he has regaled me with stories from his childhood during the war years in southwest Germany. He has told me like it was yesterday about his family, sisters and brothers, of townsfolk, businesses, and industries, of Nazis soldiers and French artillery attacks and British firebombs. He has shared stories of survival and devastation, strength and tragedy, resilience, hope, grace, and a surprising amount of comedy. He speaks of things that at times seem so foreign and yet simultaneously can be so normal and everyday. There is a lot that has happened in his seventy years since, but this is what we talk about. Why are these the things we talk about? What is important?
When I go to depart I extend my arms to him and ask if we can pray. I intending to enfold our hands together, he instead embraces me and together we stand hugging and praying. Awkward, unplanned, but it’s appropriate. The nurse then comes to assist him into a gurney and before he is wheeled off I speak a blessing upon them beginning in English and changing into German as he bows his head.
Leaving the hospital I walk back to the church building. As I said above, it is cold and windy today, but the sun is nice. I zigzag along the street grid to stay on the sunny sides as much as I can as it’s more comfortable. We seek comfort.
My intention early this morning was to unpack some thoughts on the way the church discerns making statements and taking positions in light of recent events both at a Reformed Church (RCA) congregation and the wider Presbyterian Church (PCUSA) denomination. But due to unexpected happenings today, things change. Rather, what I’m motivated by now late this morning is to wonder on the way in which the church provides comfort, how it serves as a place for people to share what is important to them. This isn’t incidentally entirely distinct from my original intention, but I approach it perhaps a bit more tenderly now.
What are the things that really matter? What are the elements most important in your life? Nearing the end, what are the stories you would tell?