I was sitting by the bedside of my friend in the Intensive Care Unit. There was a TV on the other side of the room, and as I glanced over, I saw pictures of devastation. There were Japanese people standing in the freezing cold, in lines that stretched on as far as the eye could see, waiting for a ration of food or water. Women were holding their babies close to themselves to keep them warm. Everyone had masks covering their mouths. Then another picture of a homeless shelter crammed full of people wrapped in blankets, almost in a fetal position flashed on the screen. Most of them woman and children, with very beautiful, very sad faces. I didn’t want to see anymore. I felt raw and like I couldn’t see any more suffering. I’d seen so much the previous week.
I looked again at my friend, Gary. I had met him while he was recovering from a leg amputation. Two weeks ago I celebrated his 61st birthday with him. Now I could barely recognize him. There was a contraption on his head and tubes in his nose, throat, stomach and arms. His face looked different—the strain of what he’d been through had prolonged his features and distorted them. I had on a few occasions walked into his room and thought I had made a mistake, that someone else was in that bed now; he must have been moved to another location. But then there was always that distinguishing mark that let me know it was him—he was alone. He was always by himself in a dim hospital room. He had once told me that he didn’t like being alone. He even used to sit in public places just to be around other people. He had no family. He had been adopted and never got married because he took care of his mother after his father’s death. The social worker had tried for days to find his nearest relation, but the only person she found was a second cousin that had already passed away. There was no one out there for him, no one to expect a visit from. Certainly something he’d become all the more painfully aware of all those hours he spent wracked in pain and unattended. He wasn’t able to speak. The respirator pumped his body full of oxygen, and then quickly sucked it out in unnatural inhaling and exhaling. The times when he was conscious, his eyes were either confused or expressionless, sometimes begging for help, sometimes full of pain, sometimes empty. He almost always had a 103 to 105 fever. His body would shake, his lips would break and bleed in several places, and he’d desperately be trying to get enough air. Infection pulsed out of the opening in his neck every time he breathed out.
A few times I was told by the nurse that this was it—he could go at any moment—and I would pray, poised and attentive, thinking every moment the breath that he was struggling for could be his last, and then leave the hospital hours later, numb, exhausted and tearful.
As dreadful and disturbing as it had been for me just seeing the suffering one person in the world was going through, it was hard for me to comprehend how bleak God’s vision of the world must be, see it all.
Sitting in that sentiment though, I became conscious of how both regarding my friend and the condition of the others in the world, I was coming from a standpoint of considering the emotional and material state these people were in. And I could not deny the truth that it is in deprivation and grief that souls are most inclined to turn to God.
My friend opened his eyes. I leaned up close to his face and said, “I want you to know how sorry I am for what you’re going through, for all your suffering,” and then somewhat timidly offered, “though sometimes, what is not good for the body can be good for the soul . . . ” His eyes suddenly darted to mine with a meaningful look and he nodded in such a way that clearly indicated just how much had taken place in his heart between he and God, unseen by all on the outside. While I had been distraught by what I could see, which was pain and aloneness and deterioration, God had been all the while generating a victory internally.
People could easily look at the natural disasters, the wars in the Middle East, the desperate situation in Japan, and the nuclear exposure that is contaminating the earth and say, “How could God allow this to happen?” “My kingdom is not of this world.” Amidst disasters and tragedies, He is saving souls for that Kingdom where alone there is true and lasting peace. So while there is need for great compassion in the face of these things, there should not be fear. We can enter into God’s work of bringing good from these disasters. Prayer on behalf of these souls that are being tested by extreme trials will obtain grace for them to open their hearts to their Creator at these most pivotal moments in their lives. When we witness tragedies around the world or in the lives around us, let us be faithful to Him to whom we profess to follow, and affirm “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.”
—By Sr. Maria, Servant of Abba Father, OSIHJM