In the Midst of Life

It was about nine o’clock in the evening when my beeper sounded. I was on call at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, where I’m currently completing my Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE), and this was the first time in two months that I’d received a message on the “pastoral care” pager, rather than the frequently-used “trauma” pager. Dialing nine to get an outside line, I sleepily punched in the number from my beeper, and waited for someone to answer. To my surprise, it was someone from another hospital. 

“This is Chaplain Sheryl at Hamilton County Hospital,” she said, “and we’ve got a sticky situation. There’s a mom, here, who was in a car accident. Her daughter was in the car. We can’t take children, so this little girl was sent to your hospital, and mom is desperate to hear how she’s doing. I called your ER, but they won’t even confirm that her daughter is there, since mom is now in surgery and can’t confirm her identity over the phone. Can you just lay eyes on her daughter, and let me know how badly she’s hurt? I want to be able to tell her mom when she wakes up.”

I went to the emergency room, wondering why I hadn’t been paged in the first place (I’m supposed to be called to all Level I/II traumas, after all!) and as I rounded the corner, someone shouted to me, “Chaplain! She’s in here.” I turned, thanked the nurse, opened the door, and found: a little four-year-old, smiling brightly and waving at me. No injuries. Not even a scratch. 

“Hello, there,” I said. “I heard you might have been in a car accident.”

“I peed my pants!” she cried, laughing. 

“That can happen,” I said, at a loss. A nurse came in to give her some fresh clothes, and I stepped out to let the Hamilton Chaplain know that the little girl was perfectly okay. She told me that “grandma was on her way, but it would take her a few hours.” She wanted to know if I would sit with her in the meantime. Usually our hospital would have volunteers to do this kind of thing, but everything had changed since the virus.

And so, we colored together, talked about the differences between lions and tigers, vetted names for the new stuffed animal the hospital had given her, ate some graham crackers and drank some apple juice, read a few stories, and assembled a Mrs. Potato Head. Her grandmother came after three hours to pick her up, and before she left, the little girl gave me a big hug, and said, “Come and visit me tomorrow.” 

After a couple of months of grim experiences in the Emergency Department, I was completely ready for this little girl to be broken and bloody from the motor vehicle collision. What I was not expecting was an unharmed miracle child, sweet and giggling. 

I think the season of this virus has begun to eat away at my optimism a little. My friends will tell you that I tend toward glass-half-empty thinking anyway, and that’s probably true, but I’ve been feeling the strain of the seemingly endless bad news, just hoping and waiting for life to begin again. What I think I have been failing to see, in the midst of all this chaos, is that this is not a break from life. This is what life is. Those hours of gentle play and simple, childish talk were deeply healing for me. “In the midst of life is death,” the BCP reminds us, sure, but also in the midst of life…is life.  

— Kevin Newell, Seminarian, July 2020

Spirituality The Episcopal Church

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The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog

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