If you have ever spent time in the emergency department, you know well what it means to wait. And more than wait, you know what it means to try to contain your anxiety, pain and want for relief. And while you wait, you can’t help but watch people come and go; some on stretchers, some in wheelchairs, others on crutches, some hunched over, others limping. All waiting to hear their name be called, to be summoned into the inner sanctum where healing might come.
Perhaps you also know what it’s like to wait in the emerg during a pandemic. My mother needed to go to the hospital not very long ago. My father, older brother Brent and I went with her, only to be told at the door that two of us would have to wait outside – pandemic protocols. The weather was pleasant and we found a bench upon which we could sit. And there we waited. It would take almost nine hours before my mother was seen by a doctor. It was a particularly busy day.
To pass the time, my father, brother and I took turns sitting with mom, keeping her company, chatting about this or that or nothing at all. Nine hours gives you time to think, reflect, hope, worry and pray… a lot. It also gives you time to talk with other folks who are going through the same thing.
At first, talking in the emerg is like breaking the unspoken rule of not talking in an elevator or on the subway. It is understood that you are supposed to keep to yourself. But once you’re past that, you can learn something about the toddler with an ear ache, the man who fell off his bike and broke his clavicle, the woman needing some stitches or the fellow with a broken hand. For a few short hours of your life, perfect strangers gather randomly looking for the same thing: a healing hand.
Somewhere around hour four or so, I could tell that my mother was feeling the effects of staying too long in the air conditioning of the hospital. Are you cold, mom? I asked. Yes, she replied, a little bit. I wondered what I might do. We had not planned our visit very well. Then I remembered it. I went to the car, and there it was on the back seat. Just a few days earlier, it was sitting on my desk, a gift from one of our parishes in the diocese.
I wrapped it around my mother’s shoulders. As she held the delicately woven green and blue material in her hand, she looked at me and said, I know what this is, it’s a prayer shawl.
That’s right, mom, I said, it’s a prayer shawl from St. Stephen’s church in Maple. The shawl never left her side. Wherever she went, so did the shawl. It offered more than just warmth. It gave her a little shelter from fear, worry, and anxiety, a covering of hope and the promise of presence.
In this season of gratitude, I am grateful for all frontline workers, in particular the volunteers, staff, nurses and doctors who serve in our hospitals and clinics every day. For teachers, professors, and staff in our schools, colleges and universities who gather in the classroom to impart learning. I am grateful for our bishops, priests, deacons, musicians, lay leaders and volunteers who have worked so hard to open our church buildings so that the community of faith might gather. And I am grateful for the prayerful hands that wove a shawl that made a difference. Thanks be to God.