March 28th, 2013…
We woke at six, without option, the curtains opened brusquely, the lights switched on regardless. Sleep may be a great healer but in hospitals it seems, it is a luxury. The nurses are so busy they have little time to allow a natural waking and the light is let in with a shock instead of gentle fingers.
We are a mixed bunch in this ward. A pretty young lass with purple hair and a similarly livid appendix. There is an old Indian lady in the bed opposite me. She is full of light and smiles and her husband, who visits twice a day and obviously adores her, is the same. There is a simple beauty about the pair of them that is lovely as individuals, but together they radiate something quite spectacular.
I helped them set up an internet connection so she could speak to their grandchildren and she showed me photographs of when they were young together back in the late 60’s. They were both beautiful people then… but to my mind the beauty goes deeper now. Even the body language complements each other, the eyes say more than the words and they are both full of kindness and humour.
There is an older lady in the corner. No one comes to visit, she barely moves or speaks unless spoken to, yet she is perfectly lucid. The staff here are wonderful and treat her with kindness, gentleness and dignity. There is beauty here too, for something within her elicits a particular spark of something beyond the call of duty.
There is an old lady in one bed, you can tell she has been a bit of a bugger, full of sprightliness, but now confused and scared, wanting a hand to hold.
Another needed a shoulder to assimilate the news she was given.
I too am sitting here thanks to the kindness of another human being who was moved to stop and help.
Six women, different ages, different histories, yet all sharing this common ability to elicit a response of the best kind from others. Yet, if you think about it, it is always that way… kindness, thoughtfulness, gentleness… they are always a two way thing. Even if the recipient is not aware, fails to notice or even ignores… there is an exchange that occurs. Sometimes we give and the gift is refused or rejected, mostly the small acts of kindness are appreciated and accepted with gratitude for the beauty they hold. Even in refusal the act loses none of its beauty, because it is given without expectation.
For it is the beauty of the human spirit, yet it is also something more than that too. There is a sharing, and exchange of something when a gift is given freely, and it increases when the gift is also freely received. And I think we can only call this love.
In this tiny, six bedded ward where half a dozen women, complete strangers are thrown together, there is a very special gift of kindness. Six beds, six worlds, separated only by the flimsy stuff of a curtain. Examinations, bodily functions, medical death sentences.. we all overhear each other’s lives and fates being played out. We are tuned to read the signs, somehow, that tell when one woman needs to be left alone and another needs a hug before we even know her name. For a while we share a sisterhood that transcends the anonymity of the room we share.
For a while we cease to be strangers and remember a shared humanity where the stronger protect and nurture the weaker, defending rather than preying upon them.
In this room tonight we span decades and continents, stories that reach back almost a century and into an unborn future. I do not think this basic relationship has ever changed or ever will, this give and take of care and love is part of the fabric of humanity itself and we may ignore it or defy it… but it remains, part of the backdrop against which the shadows of our lives fall and play across the screen of eternity.