Being a hospital patient reduces us to our very essence. For the moment, we have no occupation, no home, no car, and no (proper) clothing. Our social status, education and connections are really unimportant in this place. Our worldly possessions have been reduced to some flowers in a vase and a mylar ‘Get Well Soon’ balloon.
Here and now, you are who you are, without ornamentation. You possess only your time and your will.
And being thrust into this state, you recognize that those are the only two things that ever mattered anyway: time and will. What is life if not a time to express our will by the choices we make?
The other night I was awakened, struck by the sudden thought of how fearsome a thing life truly is – how what seem to be days filled with inconsequential choices are in fact choices which shape our eternal destiny! It was not a pleasant thought – it was more on the horrifying side. Who can pass this test? Who can live life so purely and courageously, always choosing the better? For a few seconds my mind flailed about, and then I found it – I remembered Christ’s mercy and fell back asleep, knowing it was a fulsome answer to the awful question.
So, back to the hospital patient – here are people who acutely feel the preciousness of time –‘More time!’ is what they want for themselves. They want more days and years of everyday life. Some are inspired to start fresh, to make better choices going forward, but no matter what, time is the canvas on which we paint the story of our lives, and the hospital patient knows it.
They also appreciate the time that others will spare for them. In the context of the illness or injury that has brought them to the hospital room, most people dearly love to be visited, and that gift of time is more valuable than any other kind of gift. All the other types of possessions and gifts that they own are left miles away at home, and they don’t really matter. It’s only time that they want, especially from those they love. How wise is the Church to include ‘visiting the sick’ on that short list of the corporal acts of mercy.
Hospital patients are like people attending a religious retreat, where those attending are given talks on ‘the last things’ (death, heaven, hell and purgatory). These themes (at least the first one) are at the forefront of their mind, surrounded as they are with all the reminders of life’s fragility. They focus on what really matters, and I suspect that it’s often a far wiser person who emerges from the hospital.
[April 1, 2015]