The apartment my family lived in when I was a child was very small, and made the more so by the fact that three adults and four children lived within its limited few hundred square feet. We were perforce proximate to one another and very aware of each other’s movements and activities at all times. Still, when night came, quiet did settle in and all was still once everyone was in bed and asleep.
But children are prone to fitful moments and when those times happened, especially illness or agitation that would come on during the night, the quietude for all was disturbed and the household aroused.
My mother was ever the sentinel. No matter which of the kids might stir, she was immediately alert and if she sensed any distress with any of us, she would be out of bed without a stumble. Even now, decades on, my mind can hear her calling to my father, “Jack, come here quick. One of the kids is sick.”
The arrival of a parent or caretaker at bedside provides immediate reassurance and comfort. If it is a bad dream we are experiencing, then we know protection is at hand. If it is illness that is upon us, then we know that soothing is present. Whatever the situation, there are certain persons in our lives whose presence can ease the agitation spawned by a trying situation.
I have had many such experiences over the course of my years in ministry, but I remember one time in particular when I was forwarded a message from Memorial Hospital that an older woman from our church, of whom I was especially fond, had been rushed to the hospital. She had asked for me, and the ask in that case was really a plea. Once I received the message, I hurried along and after arriving at the hospital, managed to find out that she was in transit between the emergency room and someplace else in the building. More than familiar with the building, I moved quickly down several corridors literally trying to trace her trail, and at the last I came upon her being wheeled on a gurney to a room.
Even though she was already prone and on a hard surface, when I spoke her name and she knew that I had found her and had come to her, it seemed as if she sagged with relief. She reached her hand out from under the covering upon her body and I extended mine. She immediately uttered the titles of two hymns she wanted played for her funeral. The sense of relief I felt that flowed from her when she was able to pass on that information about those two hymns was measurable. If was so clear that even beyond her dire medical condition, the thought that she would not be able to offer over her wishes for her funeral was a burden beyond her bearing in those moments when she was felt she was staring into death.
Friends, these are trying days. They are fearsome, they are challenging, they are without immediate resolve, and they have us all agitated and staring into an abyss of unknown dimension. We are all cast as a child or as the infirm at this time, beset and vexed by that which we do not understand. More than anything, I believe we need to feel there is a sentinel on alert looking to protect us and be with us and to care for us in these moments.
It may be reassuring to remind ourselves that those caretakers and sentinels are legion. They are present within the medical community who are striving valiantly with every skill and tenderness their calling possesses to bring healing and relief. They are present in the laborers who work daily to see to it that food and the necessities of daily life remain available for us to sustain ourselves. They are present in uniforms of all sorts, men and women alike who stand on the alert to respond to emergencies and maintain order and safety. They are present in those who tend to the structures in which we house ourselves, the places where we work, and the systems that are a part of the flow of modern life.
And they are present, I believe, in the strengths of the bonds that unite us and cause us to care for and about one another.
“Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” Matthew 28:20
Comfort and peace and assurance to all of you in this trying time.