One of my hats is a hat that I wear at work. I work in healthcare, which is a place that holds a lot of suffering alongside the potential for a solemn kind of beauty.
I was working in a neonatal intensive care unit the other day, which is not the sort of place you would imagine holds much beauty. Premature babies have thin, translucent skin and low body fat. Hence, they tend to look more like red and wrinkled aliens than fat, happy babies. And many of them have tubes in their throats and machines working to inflate their lungs, and a sedative running through an intravenous line to keep them comfortable. They hardly move, and they cannot cry.
That day in this intensive care unit, I overheard a conversation between two providers discussing their patients.
“Those orthodox mothers, nothing shakes them.”
“I know,” the other replied. “They think everything is the will of God or something.”
I could picture what they meant. The community that the hospital serves has a large population of orthodox members of a certain religion. The mothers of whom they speak dress demurely and speak quietly. Several representatives of their faith are often present in the unit, which is the largest of its kind in the area. Amidst the sterile, harsh lines and colorless walls and floors, the silent, abiding presence of these mothers in the NICU is a reminder of the context of each tiny, beating heart in its clear plastic incubator.
While I am not a member of their religion, I still felt myself tensing as the subject was brought up, preparing to hear some sort of vicious diatribe against these people and their beliefs, or something cruel and judgmental that providers would not wish their patients to hear.
To my surprise, however, the conversation took a completely different turn.
“Well, I think it’s for the best,” said the first.
“Yes,” agreed the other. “They take things so well. Just bad, bad news about their kid I don’t think I could handle. Maybe it’s better that way. They have something else to fall back to, you know.”
“Yeah. In the end they’ve got something neither you or I have.”
And the two providers walked off, leaving tears in my eyes for no particular reason. Just, it’s a beautiful thing, when one soul can touch another like that, across religious and ethnic and cultural lines. And its not for any purpose other than to simply be beside one another, acknowledging the commonality of our existences.