Friday, December 10, 2010


Last week was not one of our easiest. My wife spent 3 ½ days in the hospital after undergoing abdominal surgery. She’s home and on the road to recovery and things look good. Meantime, I’m here to tell you that it’s impossible to get any rest in the hospital. Between nurses checking vital signs, bringing medication and just checking up on you, food service employees carrying trays of something they call “food,” and the basic discomfort that comes with having surgery, sleep is a precious and ephemeral thing. We pursue it, but never quite capture it. I know this because I, too, spent three nights in the hospital, sleeping on the recliner beside Linda's bed.

During our time as clients of our local health care facility, I became a ghost. That is, I had the opportunity to move through the halls of the hospital regularly enough that I became part of the landscape. No one paid any attention to me as I went for coffee or visited the vending machines or the dining room for carry-out swill. It made for an interesting opportunity for observation.

As I looked at all the people who drifted through the halls and rooms of the hospital, I began to wonder about their stories. No one was here because they wanted to be. I could see on the faces of people in the waiting areas that they were tired and worried and perhaps fearful of whatever news they might receive. Some looked anxious, some looked resigned, and some looked like they didn’t know what they should be feeling. They were just numb.

Pain is the great equalizer. No matter who we are, when we are sick or injured we’re suddenly on the same plane with everyone else. Whatever it is that hurts, it hurts the same if we’re the CEO or the janitor. The same is true for those who are in the waiting rooms and sitting at bedsides. We all have pain. We all have scars. Some are physical. Many are emotional and spiritual.

Most of the time, we don’t want to allow our scars to show. We’re not as shy about the physical scars. In the immortal film “The Replacements,” the mortal Keanu Reeves once said: “Pain fades, chicks dig scars, glory lasts forever.” Physical scars can sometimes become strange badges of honor. The scars on our psyche and our soul are somehow different. They are much more intimate and it hurts to reveal them or even discuss them. We often prefer to keep them covered and in the dark, where it’s harder to heal and where we can look at them when we’re alone.

Have you ever had someone bump you or give you a playful slap and hit a sore place or half-healed wound they didn’t know was there? Until they hear our shout of pain or see our contorted face, they had no idea that we had been hurt. The same is true for our souls. We nurse old wounds and injuries, holding them close. Then someone unintentionally lands a blow directly on that partially healed, still inflamed spot and we experience the pain anew as if it were the first time. If only they had known, they would have touched us differently.

I wish we were able to be more open about our need to heal. Allowing those we love and trust to see the wounds that we carry around inside might actually facilitate our becoming whole again. Becoming vulnerable is the first step toward being fully healed. I’ve never been able to do that. It’s a character flaw, I guess. Sometimes I treat my pain as if it were a precious possession: “It’s mine,” says some personal demon, “and I refuse to share it with anyone else. If I do that, I’ll appear weak. I’ll loose control of my situation.” As if I was ever strong. As if I ever had control.

Once and for all, here’s the truth: We all hurt. We’ve all been wounded and we all carry the scars of personal failure, of being caught in circumstances we can’t control and of being betrayed by someone we trusted. It’s time we all admitted that and allowed someone else to see it. Yes, that will cause pain as well, but it will be the pain of necessary medicine, not the pain of silent suffering. 

Can we do it? Probably. Let's hope so. Can I do it? Possibly. I hope so. We’ll see.