He was sitting up in bed with a bandage around his swollen hand and an I.V. running into his arm. I introduced myself as being from the Spiritual Care department. He motioned for me to sit down.
“So what brings you to our fine establishment?” I asked.
“Hamster bite!” I just nodded trying to picture what a hamster bite looks like. Could you even see it? “I had just cleaned out Nibbles’ cage,” he explained.
“Hence the name, “ I said.
“No, no, it’s because of the way she eats! It’s adorable.”
“I finished cleaning the cage and was putting her back in when she bit me!”
“Maybe you missed a spot.”
“Ha! She can be so picky. That sassy girl won’t eat carrots! What hamster doesn’t like carrots? Anyway, I didn’t think much about the bite. I washed my hands and then went out and was working in the yard. You know, you gotta rake leaves before they become mush.”
I nodded in admiration since the leaves on our driveway had already turned into fermented gruel.
“Then I pulled a few weeds.”
My God who pulls weeds in November? His yard must be amazing.
“The next morning my hand was swollen and red. And painful! So I took Nibbles next door and then asked my neighbor to take me to the Emergency Department. Sure enough—they said it was infected. Well, now I have an excuse besides COVID to skip my father’s funeral.”
“Oh, gosh, I’m so sorry.”
He just shrugged and then went on to explain that he really wasn’t sad that his father died. His sisters were furious with him for not flying out for the service.
“You know, he was a well-known powerful man. He had time for all his fans and supporters but not his own family. He neglected us. And he cheated on my mom—a lot.”
“Was he a politician?”
“Minister.” We both were silent for a while and I hoped he couldn’t tell my skin was crawling. Then he continued, “When I became a teenager he started telling me about all these women he was seeing. I couldn’t believe it! All the details. It made me sick. Of course I never told my mom but I think she knew.”
“Why do you think he told you?”
“I think he knew I was gay before I knew I was gay. I think he was trying to make straight sex really appealing to me. Like it was so cool. But I hated him for it. He didn’t even come to the hospital when Mother was dying.” He paused and then whispered. “I’m not big on Christianity.”
I just nodded. Why would he be?
Then he talked non-stop for thirty minutes. He told me how after his mother died, his father remarried in six weeks. He catalogued the insults and slights of both his father and his sisters. He wondered why he wasn’t grieving his father’s death. He thought he felt something but didn’t think it was grief over his death. I suggested that maybe he was grieving the lack of a healthy father-son relationship. He thought that was right. And he said even though he wasn’t big on Christianity, he missed church. I really got that because right now, I miss church too.
Then he ran out of story because he was just done. He sat back and put good hand over his heart. “I’ve never told anyone this. I feel like such a weight has been lifted from my chest.”
“You can thank your hamster.”
He laughed. “So that’s why she bit me!”
I asked him if he wanted me to say a prayer and he did. I gave thanks for Nibbles and prayed for healing, blessings and peace for him. Then I ended the prayer as I always do, “May all be healed. May all be blessed. May all have peace. Amen.”
Sometimes things happen and it just seems meaningless. Other times the meaning is immediately clear. And then there are times when the meaning is slow to unfold but once it begins to show itself it feels like a tidal wave.
The last thing this man said to me was, “I can’t wait to go home and thank her!”
Nibbles of course.