“Excuse me… do you have the pain meds?”
I paused, pulled the curtain back a bit to see an older man who had just waken from a nap. “Me? Oh No… I’m the chaplain here today.”
Blinking away the fog of sleep, he waved a hand in apology. “Oh, I didn’t realize. I’m sorry to bother you.”
“Oh – it’s no bother! I was hoping to get to meet you this afternoon, but you’ve been resting.” I moved closer to the head of the bed, so that I could hear better over the sounds of oxygen delivery and fans in the room. “Are you hurting? Do you need me to find your nurse?”
“No, no. I’m fine. Being in the hospital, you just get used to people coming in with needles every time you wake up.”
I could see his thoughts clearing, his eyes beginning to focus a bit more. I could see the handsome man he must have been before the illness took his color and energy. “Needles? No- they don’t trust me with those. I just get to poke around with words. I try not to get too sharp with them, though. I’m Laura, by the way.”
After a long day of intense conversations, it was nice to hear a warm chuckle. And to see an inviting smile. “It’s good to meet you. Call me Henry*. Or Hank. Either will do.”
“Really. I have to choose, eh? Well, what do your friends call you?”
That provoked another good laugh and a side-eyed look filled with mischief. “You know, a lot of times they called my by my last name. It’s a first name, too, though. My friends always laughed that I had three first names.”
Henry and I enjoyed one of those amiable conversations that rambled around his life and loves, his journey in and out of church, his faith in God, and around to his family. It was so lovely. His faith tradition is one that ordains only men, so as I prepared to leave, I asked if he would be ok with me praying for him.
“I’m good with it if you are! Are you going to be here when I’m ready for bed?”
“No, my shift is about done, but I’m happy to pray here and now, then take some time to pray for you at bedtime from my house.”
“That sounds good”
I grabbed his hand and paused. I looked him in the eye, “So, do you think God knows you as Henry or Hank?”
We shared another lovely laugh together as he grabbed my hand in his. I prayed to the God who knows us inside and out, who knows us by the name we were given before time began, and who numbers our days. I prayed for this man I had just met, whose heart was now entwined with mine as surely as his hand held mine. As I closed with the Lord’s prayer, he joined in, echoing the words that he hadn’t said aloud in the years he’d “backslid” from attending church.
“Henry, thank you. Thank you for sharing your stories with me. You are a beloved child of God, and I give thanks for this time with you.”
“Laura, you are a beloved child of God, and I give thanks for this time with you.”
I became aware again of the warmth of the hand holding mine. It was Henry’s. But in that moment, it represented so much more. It was the love between a brother and sister in Christ. It was the love of God for his children. It was a mysterious mingling of the human and divine. Neither of us were in a hurry for that sacred moment to end.
It’s funny – looking back on it, one more person was present in that moment. My dad’s been gone for a decade now, so I guess I’m kind of used to him being a memory instead of someone I can call or visit. But once in a while, I really miss him. And once in a while, the world conspires to bring him back to life. He too, was (is) a beloved child of God. I give thanks for this time with him.
*Not his real name, what with privacy laws and such.