Sunday, October 26, 2003 9:24 PM CST
CompassionBy: Gary DeVaul
On the second day in the hospital a nurse's aid came into the room. She asked me to get Mark up and around so that she could put clean sheets on the bed. He needed them both, the sheets and a walk. Well, he didn't see it that way. The morphine was making bed the more comfortable choice and when I would try to stand him up he would get dizzy, and unsteady, and want to slide back under the covers. The walking thing didn't appeal to him at all. Nevertheless, he was a good patient and when the nurses - who were angels of the highest order in heaven and on earth - reminded Mark that his circulation demanded he "move it". Well, he did.
As we were creeping down the hall he was naturally wobbly, and of course, I was supposed to be the tugboat. A nurse passed us by, heading the other direction. Her name was Mary. Mary had one of those twinkles that lives in one's heart and is reflected in one's eyes. She stopped just behind us and said in a mocking authoritative voice, "Mr.Thallander, why are you creeping along like that? There's nothing wrong with your legs man, come on move it!" And would you believe he turned, looked at her, and cocked his head toward me as if to say it was my fault? Mary, being of Irish decent, replied under her breath as she walked away, "Oh, the devil you say..."
When we arrived back at the room exhausted from our marathon, the nurse's assistant was finished with her bed making. She took one look at Mark and said, Honey, we have to do something about that doo. Being rather shall we say, of another generation, I had no idea what a doo was. But Mark did. He said, "What's wrong with my hair?" And she said with fresh compassion in a voice which comes from one in touch with healing powers. "Your hair isn't black is it Mark?" And he replied, "No it isn't, its blond." She said, "Come on, get into bed, I'll wash your hair."
She was back in a flash with a long funny looking tub that fit under his head and cradled his neck. As she began to soap and scrub his hair the long tub became pink and soon it turned to red. Very carefully the young girl covered the water with a towel so that it would not frighten Mark as she removed the tub. In her compassion she wanted to spare him the sight. Well, it was a bit much for me. Not the blood, but the display of compassion. I headed off down the hall to get a Ginger Ale for the man getting the doo in the beauty salon at room 317, and got myself together as well.
When we see true compassion we know it and we are touched. Why? Because compassion touches. That night after a late dinner I was too tired to sleep. Jeremy had not arrived as yet to take the night shift, so I stole into Mark's room to check on him. Mary, the nurse, was sitting up asleep in a chair beside Mark with her hand clasp in his. Mary was off duty.
Mark's insurance would not provide for a private room. Yet somehow the nurses saw to it that no one was ever scheduled for the bed next to his. These are the kind of serendipities that met us along the way. I don't use the word blessing very often. I think we tend overuse it. Oh, what a blessing, tends to fall too easily off our lips. But these were blessings in the true sense of the word. Blessing's rooted in compassion.
Now for a surprise! The singular translation for the Hebrew word compassion, or, the corresponding word, mercy, as it is used in the Old Testament is the word womb! Can you believe it? In Exodus 22:27 Yahweh says to one in need, "...if he cries to me, I will hear for I am compassionate." There is a good example of the flavor of the word in Jesus' statement in Luke 6:36. "Be compassionate as God is compassionate." The word compassionate had a womb like quality to it for the Hebrew listener. The womb is creative, nourishing, life giving, safe and all encompassing. It is related to Jesus' intimate description of His Father which is translated Papa. One cannot escape the tender mercies of God and the feminine side of God's nature as well, for the womb-like word compassion completes the imago dei, or image of God, as both male and female. Jesus represents the ideal in his lament, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, How often I would have gathered my children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings...."
This compassion was the touch stone of Jesus' image of his Father and He echoed this compassion, by making it the hallmark of his ministry on earth. It is when we see compassion reflected in the lives of others, through a word, or touch, or kindness done, that we witness the vibrant living Spirit of God at work in the heart of another. This is why we are apt to be moved when some act of mercy, or kindness, is done to us while we are captured by a critical moment, or circumstance. The Spirit within reacts to the corresponding Spirit in another - and the child leaps in the womb of John the Baptist's mother at the sight of Mary with child.
When Jesus healed he often touched. And believe me He did it at great risk. Oh, not risk of infection, or the communication of disease, but at risk of offending Jewish custom and law. For Jewish custom and law forbade touching the sick. They were seen as unclean. And being superstitious they believed that sickness pointed to sin. Well, Jesus would have none of this first century political correctness.
In Mk 1:40-45 a man comes to Jesus riddled with leprosy. Leprosy was the epitome of the unclean in the chronicles of Jewish tradition. Leprosy turned the flesh white, sores and ulcers appeared, and ruptured, soon the flesh rotted off. We have no idea what the noisome face of the leper looked like when he came to Jesus. But we do know in Luke's account of the same story, the leper fell on his face to hide his shame. But Jesus saw no shame! Only agony.
Here we see the heart of Jesus in His response to suffering, for there was no greater suffering on earth than that which leprosy imposed. Jesus looked upon this wreck of humanity. He was "moved with compassion" and He reached out and "touched the man" instantly healing the leprosy and shattering the ancient taboo. We see one more act of compassion on Jesus' part to the leper, now healed. He did not want the man to bear the penalty for a law broken by Divinity. So he sent the man to the High Priest to show himself as clean, as the Law of Moses required.
Phantom pain is very real to the sufferer. Mark can feel the fingernails bite into the palm of his left hand. The missing arm and hand often cramps and curls under his chest. The pain can be unbearable at times. Toward the end of his stay at Maine's Medical Center, a physical therapist met with Mark to aid in his recovery. The young woman had a deep understanding of Mark's pain and a compassion that out weighed her understanding. She asked him to close his eyes and concentrate on a white light. Mark was reminded of the light he saw in his near death experience with morphine. He said he had been drawn up through a tunnel of light and angels literally sent him back to us. While he was meditating on this very same light the therapist moved the palm of her hand over his invisible arm and hand in a comforting soothing motion. Soon, I saw the expression of joy sweep over Mark's face as the phantom pain lessened. He said," I can feel the warmth of your hand. I can move my fingers. My hand is opening up. Oh, wow, I can feel the cool air between my fingers." The therapist's face mirrored the joy of Mark's expression. The whole room took on a quality of radiance. Personally I have never experienced anything like that moment. The healing time found its essence in a woman who knew God's love and engendered God's compassion. Thus are His servants at Maine Medical Center.
It is this same compassion and no less - that has swelled Mark's Trust Fund and made it possible for him to live, pay his bills, and put his life back together. Your contributions are just as meaningful as the hand holding his in the darkness of night. From the bottom of his heart to the top of his blond head - he thanks you. When the angel asks with mocking mirth, Mr. Thallander what are you doing up and about so soon? He simply turns and nods his head towards you. For you are to blame. Oh, the devil you say...