The rising of the sun,
The running of the deer,
The playing of the organ,
Sweet singing in the choir.
I'm waking up early in the hospital this morning, hoping it might be snowing, gearing up to head downstairs for some coffee. I'm feeling the sweet, giddy, child-like anticipation of the season, because when I leave here in a few hours I am heading south to stay with a friend in Bedford and then we are venturing into New York City tomorrow. The big city is completely irresistible at Christmastime; I cannot wait to smell the roasted chestnuts, to see the tree at Rockefeller Center and whatever magic the elves have worked in the windows at Bergdorf's this year. With any luck it will snow while we're there; to be in New York City when it's snowing is the closest a person can come to feeling like they're inside a snow globe.
Last week, before I left the hospital on Wednesday, at the very end of the day, almost by happenstance, I made a joyful connection with a woman on the oncology floor. I wandered into her room to talk with her roommate, but that patient was being moved to another room, so I sat and shared a long conversation with the woman staying put instead. I was looking forward to picking up where we left off when I returned this week, and when I learned she had died over the weekend, I had a brief moment of self-absorption in which I allowed myself to think I was becoming the angel of death. I sat staring at the computer screen for a while, at the List of Deceased, where I had found her name and in that quiet space something small inside me shifted. I didn't burst into tears and I didn't go to that place of, "Well this completely sucks." I just sat with this news, this pain, this loss, this overwhelming sense of disbelief that yet another of "my patients" was dead. I thought about the tiny little things I had found memorable about this woman, and I decided I would approach my work in a new light: I would take in the sights and sounds and words, hopes and fears of these patients, and I would celebrate the moments we have. And I really do mean moments. In the case of each of the patients I knew who died in the past two weeks, I had left them thinking, "I can't wait to see that person again...I want to know more..." And then that chance never came. They were in my life one day, dead the next. Our hearts had made a connection, then I didn't have the opportunity to finish the conversation we had begun. Instead of feeling robbed, though, I decided to feel blessed.
I see something clearly now that I didn't see in my first hours and days here in the hospital with the cancer patients: I see that these incredible people are giving me the gift of vision and truth: Here I am today, they seem to say, please enjoy these precious minutes right now...this is all we have...tomorrow is not a promise and there is no turning back the hands of time.
On Saturday evening my friend and I are going to the Christmas concert at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the fourth largest Christian church in the world. I can only imagine what Christmas music sounds like filling up a space like that, especially now that my three oncology friends have joined the choir.
Enjoy the many blessings of this miraculous season.