on a hot summer’s night, a night thick with the heat, thick with the back beat of crickets and car horns, i stepped into a sacred place, a place i’ve long known, for what always amounts to a peeling back of the heart, of the hard places inside, the places that sometimes forget just how blessed they are.
i walked into a children’s hospital. my children’s hospital. the one where i once was a nurse, where still when i drive by, on that busy street corner in the heart of the city, i see in my mind a whole slide show of children i loved, children now lost.
some women i know do face peels, come out shining. i’m more inclined toward these heart peels.
ever since i’ve been a mama, i cannot step in that hospital door without seeing some child, some mama or papa, that pulls the pumping thing straight from my chest.
i go there, i suppose, the way the old mexican ladies used to crawl on their knees up the limestone steps of the great catholic church by my old house, crawl clear up the center aisle. not minding the pain because it pulled them in closer. pulled them in to that oneness with the one who was crucified, yes, but also, i’m thinking, with all of those everywhere who live in a crucible of undying struggle and ache.
i am not some kind of a crazy. please don’t think that. but in this world that we live in, this world where chairs come with cushions, and food turns to rot before we can manage to eat it, it’s easy sometimes to forget.
to forget that the aches and the pains of our everyday are nothing. that we worry about the knees of a child hurt by a hike in the woods. but for crying out loud the kid was off at a camp on an island not easy to get to. money gets you there. privilege does too.
and sometimes we lose a whole day worrying about the invisible wires inside of a box on our desk that now seems to hold all that there is that’s essential. it’s a box, dammit. just a box that holds digits and data.
so on a night in a week when those were the kinds of things i’d been lost in, i stepped into children’s not knowing which room, or which bend would pull me into the place where my heart was peeled back. left open. dripping. realizing that each night, as i tuck my babies in sheets that are clean, that are mine, that hold stories, there are babies strapped onto beds with industrial sheets. there are mamas sitting next to those beds, mamas who would do anything to get up and get the hell out of there.
but they can’t. their babies are sick. their babies are missing whole parts. their babies are dying.
sometimes i think it’s good for my heart, for my soul, to remember.
to walk through the halls, to step into rooms, to remember.
last night, my guide on the walk was a wise soul, a woman, whose job it is to bring that spark of the divine into the world where machines blink and they beep through the night.
she took me, in rather quick order, to the place where my heart peeled wide open. a place i’ll not soon forget.
there in a crib, in the dark of a room lit only by streetlights outside and the lamp of a nurse who read through a chart down a ways, there lay the one i’ll carry with me for days and weeks and months. years, maybe. the one who’ll whisper to me every time, remind me how blessed is my life, how feeble my worries.
she was two. she was sleeping. her hair, brown, pulled up in two pigtails that flopped on her pillow like two spouting fountains. her eyelashes, thick, fell on her fat little cheeks. made her look like a fawn. her chest was bare, i watched her breathe. up and down her little chest rose, and then fell. her tiny fingers curled on the red of an elmo doll. an elmo balloon, catching the glint of the streetlight outside, fluttered over her head.
she had tubes. two on her chest. one in her nose.
she has a brain tumor.
at the beginning of summer she was running and babbling about elmo and big bird. her mama and papa didn’t know there was something not right. not yet, anyway. not back in may. she was starting to fall sometimes. but they didn’t think much about it. toddlers do that, they fall all the time it can seem.
things changed. the news came. there was a growth by her ear, just behind it. they opened her brain. she’d been on a breathing machine ever since, for two-and-a-half months. she was just now, as of hours ago, breathing on her own. but now, i’m told, she no longer talks about elmo. she no longer talks. she can’t.
her mama and papa, he’s a policeman, had just left when i got there. so i stood there beside her trying to catch what was left of my breath. i couldn’t stop crying. i wanted to lift that sweet child, carry her rushing into the street, into wellness. i wanted it all to be a bad dream. make it better.
my guide through these halls, the wise woman, leaned in toward that face i’ll never forget. she was asleep, the little one. but it is never too late for a bedtime prayer.
my guide, the one with the velvet hands, brushed that sweet baby’s brow. “good night, sweetheart,” she whispered, after all of the prayer.
i stood there longer than maybe i should have. but i couldn’t stop the tears spilling down, making my face wet. and i couldn’t leave the side of that baby.
she looked as perfect as perfect could be. but the fact of the matter was, hell grew inside.
i walked into that place to remember. to step back from my life, from my worries. i walked out fervently praying. dear God, have mercy, i’m begging.
hold her and cradle her. rock her and hush her. make it soft, God. and don’t make it hurt.
so now you too had a heart peel. maybe.
just so you know, i was there, in the first place, for my dayjob. i don’t think they’d let me in just for the cleansing of my soul. just to wake up the numb parts, the parts that forget. sometimes it takes what we see on the news. sometimes we’re caught by surprise. sometimes we’re out and we witness, there in a crowd, there on the side of the road, some scene we can’t shake. some scene that reminds us how very blessed we are. sometimes the best prayers that we pray are those for those we don’t know. but whose mercy we beg for. what peels your heart? do you believe in the power of purposely opening your eyes to the heartache around you? or is this the craziest regime you could ever imagine?
the hands up above are those of two of the healers. both are extraordinary women, women with “the touch.” their hands, i am certain, are anointed with the holiest of holies. and they use those hands to heal what medicine cannot. bless those hands. bless those healers. and bless, please, the ones who they labor to heal.