I love to people watch. Occasionally it can be a horrifying pass-time but it also allows us to see some wonderful things in the world around us.
There are 18 rooms on the hall and every so often, the doors will be cracked. As I walk laps around the same tiny loop, we see glimpses of others’ lives. In the evenings when things are simultaneously quiet and restless, we can see the ‘true self’; just like at home, night time is we can stop being busy and can genuinely struggle, relax, suffer or blissfully rest.
As William and I walked our loop this week I have seen some incredible things. In one room a frail teenager sat on the bed while a tall, brunette nurse hung an IV bag with a smile. On our second loop I could see this nurse, Emily, standing behind this girl, brushing out her long gentle waves with great care. She was not rushing off to other patients; Emily’s attention and conversation was entirely focused on this girl. By the third loop a beautiful plaited braid hung between her shoulder blades and the opening to a hospital gown. For the first time in days, I saw the girl smile.
This small act is quite profound. In this place people are often isolated to our rooms. Often, nurses must put on gowns, gloves and masks to even enter the rooms. This becomes tiresome in the endless rounding and checking on each patient. Many of the patients go all day with their only touch being when vitals are taken or something functional is taking place. Emily paused from the chaotic rush. She SAW this girl and she touched her. When one brushes hair too hurriedly there is pain. Playing with and styling hair is a special thing in young ladies. It is even more profound on a floor where the Q-ball look is wildly popular due to chemotherapy.
Have you ever noticed how small children become fascinated with something and immediately want to touch it? Even paintings or pictures that they find beautiful that have very little texture. When we really see something and admire it, we often want to touch it. Moms of small children constantly have to say, “Don’t touch that! It’s dirty!” and “That can make you sick!” How often we take that approach with others. The sick, the homeless- the rejected in society will often say that one of the hardest parts is that they are rarely touched. One of our nurses is about to go overseas to train and teach nurses handling the Ebola crisis. We would say that is bravery. Reaching out to the broken and sick often looks brave. Contact that transmits love is risky.
In here I am rarely touched by someone other than William. Believe me, at the end of the day I can still have moments when I don’t want anyone touching me at all for a few minutes. I think it is because the constant reaching out and touching our bodies is exhausting– it is how we give of ourselves. Is it any wonder that just sitting quietly in someone’s presence, perhaps holding hands or shoulder to shoulder is more significant during grief than any words of comfort? Sometimes the best medicine for what can’t be fixed is knowing someone cares.
I can tell which nurses are in love with William by how they smile at him and touch him. They high-five, cuddle, and blow kisses. The therapists force his body into strengthening positions– they put their bodies in line with his to strengthen him. They feel his strength by feeling him. He may scream through it but the next time the move gets easier– and he grins.
When we stop trying to fix, we can heal. Sometimes we can’t see the disease– only its evidence. Faith is like that. Hope, love, faith- the evidence is how we touch, grasp, reach out and draw in.
In the words of Depeche Mode, “Reach out and touch faith”.