She was receiving antibiotics because she has a chronic disease. She had just started graduate school, but kept having to stop out because of her hospitalizations and of course—COVID.
She was from a foreign country and deeply missed her family. Her health condition would not allow her to make the long plane trip home. Her family couldn’t come visit her because of course—COVID.
Her depression was serious, not just a passing mood. Since I had known her she’d been on suicide watch at least twice. Like many young people who have been chronically ill all their lives, she was small. She was also pale and blonde and looked like the merest breeze could blow her away.
I stood in the doorway of her room, rubbing sanitizer all over my hands. She greeted me as if I was there to do a nasty job that had to be done—like exterminate rats. She didn’t even look up me when she said, “All my friends are happy and bright. I feel like I’m a sucking black hole.”
I knew that social work had been in. Psychiatry had been in. Her doctor had been in. We had talked about her spiritual beliefs before and I pretty sure they hadn’t changed in ten days. So I decided to take a risk because sometimes a girl just wants a superficial, frothy conversation.
“I love your blouse!” I said. “You always have the cutest tops.”
Then we talked about manicures, food delivery, pampered dogs and hair styles. We discussed glasses: plastic or wire frames? Leggings or skinny jeans? She kept getting perkier and perkier. Anyone who heard us talking would yank my chaplain credentials immediately.
I decided it was time to get serious. I pulled out my phone and took a deep breath. “I confessed to my husband that I have a crush on someone at work,” I said sighing. She looked shocked.
I looked as ashamed as I possibly could. “You know that fish tank in the waiting area on 6 Southeast?”
She nodded, never taking her eyes off me. I knew what she was thinking: “Is the chaplain in love with the guy who cleans the fish tank?”
I flipped through my photos and looked longingly at one before thrusting the phone in her face. “This guy!”
“Oh, my God!”
“He’s cute isn’t he?” She started laughing. I tried to look hurt and said sternly. “This is a Longhorn Cowfish,” I said. “I can’t take my eyes off him. But one of the nurses told me he is mean and pokes the other fish with his horns.”
This made her shriek with laughter. Hooked up to three different I.V. bags she sat there in bed giggling away. I waited until her chuckles subsided.
“You know,” I said. “I understand you feel like a black sucking hole, but you really aren’t. You carry so much Light. You really do.”
She was quiet and then said, “Thank you.”
“Although I’m super sorry that you are in the hospital, I have to tell you, when I see your name on the list I can’t wait to see you. Sometimes the other chaplain and I argue over who gets to see you.”
“Thank you,” she said again but this time her eyes filled with tears.
I really do believe we all carry Light and sometimes our job isn’t so much to bear light, but to help others uncover their own.
Almost everyone is a little depressed these days. Racial strife, a polarized election and of course—COVID. It’s as if we’re all lanterns and our glass has become dirty and opaque. So we do what we can to help one another shake off those layers of grime.
It’s the least—and the most—we can do.