February 18, 2012

is there a buddhist in the house?!?

“Would you like to have spiritual care?”

The question scared me. The nurse had been casually going through various pre-op necessities, taking my blood pressure and checking my pulse and asking if I were allergic to latex. My impending translaminar foraminectomy was classified as elective surgery. “Spiritual care” sounded like “last rites” to me. Had I missed something in the surgeon’s office?

I discovered that the Methodist Hospital of Houston simply and charitably provides any spiritual presence for any patient who wants it. After quickly confessing that I was a Buddhist and then blithely announcing that, nah, I didn’t need any help, a tangle of unthought thoughts hit my head like sticky spiritual cobwebs.

Why do I always assume — and say — that I don’t need help? Why do I still sometimes treat my profession of Buddhism as a confession? Why do I feel like asking for anything is an imposition? Why do I always default to the solitary? Why is “care” something I only reach for in extremis?

I felt important insights coalescing but had no time to wait for wiser words and realizations, so I just announced with a winged flourish of one hand, “You know, I’ll take that Buddhist!”

The nurse’s pen duly noted my hope. She then partook of my blood and listened to my heart and I thought, “Things are often so much bigger than we see.”

The next morning at promptly 6 a.m., Joaquin and I stood at a nurse’s intake desk in one of the world’s largest medical facilities and after all the duly noting, I glanced over at my beloved and truly noted that at certain precious times we are, blessedly, not alone.

Then, I lay down, got hooked up to various tubes and basically queued up for the morning’s surgical rotation and, well, waited for a Buddhist to appear. A monk? A priest? Theravada or Mahayana? Zen or Southern Californian? I had no idea what to expect. At promptly 6:30 a.m. the door opened. A kind and slightly wizened Caucasian face smiled and began chatting amiably about being here for me for anything at all and continued chatting amiably about just about everything. The more anecdotes he bubbled over with, however, the more confused I got. I didn’t want to make such a sweet soul uncomfortable, but after he mentioned being an organist for twenty years I finally asked, “Excuse me, may I please ask what faith you follow?”

Baptist, of course. “Um… really, this is not a problem at all, but I actually requested a Buddhist.”

His horizontal visage went vertical. He looked sincerely upset for me.

“Really! It’s NOT a problem. I just thought I should let you know.”

Just the fact that kind hearts freely make this kind of effort each day was more than enough for me. But, without a trace of spiritual condescension he scribbled in his folder and said he’d get right on this, but that a Buddhist wasn’t actually on staff and in morning traffic, well…

“REALLY! I’m fine. You are great!”

Still, off he went. My surgery was to begin at 8 a.m. At exactly 7 a.m. the door swung wide again. A beatific young face that looked awfully Latin — but hey, the I.V. was kicking in and random thoughts like the genetic connection between ethnic Tibetans and the Navaho floated into my clouding mind — entered with the same words of care and the same effulgence of spirit. As we visited, I thanked his associate for finding him and he asked, “What associate?”

I relayed the previous engagement. His formerly high and cheerful eyebrows furrowed. Gently but awkwardly, I asked of his faith. Catholic, of course. The Baptist’s shift had just ended, and with confused notations in my chart I was this young man’s first prophylatic call on his first round. He looked even more perturbed that my spiritual wishes hadn’t been honored.

I laughed and admitted that if some poor Buddhist would have had to roust himself out of bed at 5 a.m. to have made it here in time for me to prove to myself that I am in fact a Buddhist, I think the universe was right to send me a Baptist and a Catholic instead. With all the years I have spent studying and considering all that I cannot abide in the faith of my forbears, I appreciated the gift of being viscerally reminded of all the generous love and light abounding in hearts of all kinds.

Though I was pretty bleary when we arrived at the elevators in that hospital at 5:45 a.m., I could swear that inscribed on the wall by those opening doors were words from Emily Dickinson:

Hope is the thing with feathers

That perches in the soul,

And singes the tune – without the words,

And never stops at all,

And sweetest in the gale is heard;

And sore must be the storm

That could abash the little bird

That kept so many warm.

I’ve heard it in the chillest land,

And on the strangest sea;

Yet, never, in extremity,

It asked a crumb of me.

I felt so much pain for a while. I feel so much gratitude to all of the souls who have helped me feel better. I feel so much more, more than I can still fully explain.

I just looked up the meaning of hope in the dictionary. After all of the wordier explications, I see:

2      ARCHAIC  a feeling of trust

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Categories: Buddhism, Emily Dickinson, Life

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