Things are seen in in the terrible intimacy of the ED every day that should not happen once in a thousand years. Except they happen in entire zip codes, too; the same damn ones for decades. This morning I presided over our hospital “safety huddle” where we report to each other about events, concerns and needs, often using abreviations and acronynms for highly technical and fraught things that happened; “peds abuse procotol” instead of whatever the true story would be in the life of a child hurt by whoever was supposed to protect her. Those break this grandfather’s heart (Charlie turned 3 yesterday).
Last week I was in Atlanta at the advocacy leadership table of the American Public Health Association—the health colleagues at the exact opposite end of the professional continuum from the two child abuse cases reported out in our hospital safety check-in today. Last week John Lewis opened the APHA with words both fierce and tender about justice and kindness as the zillionaires try to walk off with another trillion or two.
Big numbers and repetition can make us hard and dull; but they don’t have to. We live in such a hard-hearted time. Today the sharp edge of medicine was felt by a nurse who is also a mom with a high school son taking chemo. Later at Green Street church, we lifted Aaron up even as we were still wordlessly aching for Cole, our six-year-old who died only last Sunday. How can we can we keep our heart from closing down?
In my Christian tradition, we have Paul’s words on love, written to the contentious gaggle in Corinth. These are mostly wasted on romance when we need them in the bitter struggles to give hope a chance one patient and a neighborhood at a time.
“If I speak in the voice of powerful people or spirits but do not have loving kindness, I am only a distracting noise. If I have predictive data and interdisciplinary analytics that give me confidence to move mountains of poverty, but am not kind, I am nothing. If I proudly commit to radical levels of community benefit and take on huge obligations for the health of the public, but am not humbled by love, I do nothing.”
“The love that life needs is patient and kind. It does not envy others’ projects, it does not boast of our own skills, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of who got more. Loving kindness does not delight in anyone’s failure but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always finds a way.”
“Love never quits. Where we have predictions and projections, they will cease; where there are speeches, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.”
“For we know in part and we predict in part, but when living complexity becomes visible, what is partial disappears. When we were young in our work we talked like beginners, and thought like beginners, reasoned like a students. When we became a grown-ups, we put the ways of childhood behind.”
For now we see only dimly as if looking through a smoky haze; then we shall see it all directly. Now we know a bit; then we may know fully, even as our own lives will be fully known.”
“For only these three remain in life: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
God, our simple prayer; keep us tender.