I worked all night last night as the on call Chaplain. It’s something I do from time to time and it never amazes me that I can come away with some of the most profound stories in the middle of the night.
Most of the night had been crickets and the pager hadn’t gone off all night. Then out of the blue a nurse calls my duty phone.”This the Chaplain. How may I help you,” I asked. The nurse replied,”Can you come to the ER? We have someone that wants to talk.” Usually this means that someone is not all mentally there and they have a whole lot of issues that i am not so readily equipped to handle.
“Sure, thing,” I replied. “Oh before you go, do you know if it is urgent by any chance?” I was dog tired from not getting a nap before the shift started and working out in the gym just a couple of hours prior.
“Well, it’s not urgent, but soon,” the nurse stammered.
“Okay, well I ‘ll make it a point to come on over there.”
After all we are in the people business, I thought to myself. Most times it’s the nurses and doctors who can deal with the body, but can’t deal with the souls of people. So, I tied my tie tight and got it ready for action. I said a prayer I usually say before walking into a room and made the sign of the Cross across my chest.
I make to his room in the ER and he is talking very loud on his cellphone. He sees me and his eyes light up like no other and excitedly waves me in as he wraps up his phone call. I could tell by his demeanor that I would be the one doing most of the listening. He had a type A personality and I am usually your classic introvert. He finally gets off of the phone and stares at me. He sees my name badge and sticks out his hand to introduce himself.
“Ahmad,” he asks with a smile.
“Yes,” I am that guy I said jokingly. I remained standing to let him know that I had his full attention. “So, what seems to be going on? I see you’re here and I’m sure you’ve had better days.”
He had his shoes off and some dirty clothes in the guest chair inside of the ER room. I thought the room would probably wreak, but there wasn’t any odor to speak of. This allowed me to concentrate better on what he had to say.
“Well, Father.” For some reason everyone likes to make me out to be a priest. But, I take in any way that they need to feel the comfort of God. “I’m 59; no job; a military vet; and I had remission of cancer reverse on me; and I’m homeless. To top it all off. I live with my ex-girlfriend and her husband. If you can believe that!”
I nodded in agreement. “It’s definitely not the craziest thing I have ever heard. But very interesting.”
“Well, her husband knows that her and I are just good friends and when I told her about the cancer. She told me that I just can’t live in my van with cancer. I have to get it treated! So I live in their basement with my two dogs. The dogs give me a lot of comfort. The reason I have you down here is because I am an old boy from Arkansas where they were really racist and would have definitely run you out of town if you were to ever visit. But, I am not like that at all. My parents were strict Christians and I grew up in the church. But, I have questions. I don’t believe in Him, and I’m scared. But, I don’t want to default to Him and a book of several interpretations just because I’m scared. I mean we can make that book mean anything we want it to. I’m all out of hope. Give me something, Padre.”
I smiled and shared my story of coming to faith. I spoke of being homeless and puking stomach acid of hunger for a time period and rambled on for a few minutes. I looked at him in the bed to see if he was still paying attention and paused because I thought he was sleep.
He said,”Keep going, I like to hear your voice.” So I continued. At the conclusion he asked, “Well, if you would have told me when I was 6 that I would be like this at 59…..” He let off a frustrated grin and rubbed his hair back. “What am I looking for here?”
I rubbed my chin and replied, “It sounds like you already believe in something higher, but you are letting the smallest doubts deter you from acknowledging the existence of God. Your battle sounds unique, but you are the only one that can fight such a battle. I couldn’t imagine going through half the stuff that you lived through. In fact I would call you a walking miracle. You’re 59 I just had to tell a mother that her baby died after a few hours of birth. You have all of your hair on your head and you get to live with your ex girlfriend and her husband of all people.”
We both laughed and I received another page on my phone so I knew I had to wrap it up soon. I asked him if I could pray for him even though he had reservations. He didn’t give me the slightest of resistance. He respectfully said that he would respectfully listen.
I said the prayer and he shook my hand tightly. I shared with him that I am still currently serving and that gave him even more comfort that I was in war as well. After I shared what rank I was he immediately began to call me Sir and thanked me again for coming to see him.
I sprayed sanitizer on my hands and told him. “Of all the people that could have been called. All of the times that you could have been here. You just happened to be here with a black Army Chaplain from New Jersey that was just as skeptical as you once were. In my book that would a whole lot of God. But I ‘ll let you think on that.”
He let out a big laugh and said, “Sir, you’re just going to keep spinning everything in that direction aren’t you?”
I replied, “I sure am. It’s the only one way I know how to live.” Then I exited the room.
It wasn’t the type of call that I was expecting, but it was nevertheless intriguing and entertaining at the same time. I sure do hope things get better for him, but what he didn’t know was Jesus came to make dead people live. I really hope he does find that peace before his appointment comes up. But, I truly believe that’s all he wanted to hear to begin with.