02 October 2008

the hands of the night

It's my second night in a row on call and the shell has begun to crack a little bit. I kind of knew this would happen so I gave notice at the farm earlier this week and in general am going to try to put my commitments on a crash diet (with the same implications -- they will revive immediately of course) so I can focus more on Chaplaincy. It's one month into the program and I feel very half-way.

Half-way to nowhere and everywhere at once. The essence of the long-distance relationship. Or commute. Whatever. Three days in Seattle and two in Sequim the other two fall somewhere in between. And I feel half-captivated by this experience and half-repulsed by this environment; The hospital seems a whole lot less healthy than the mountains...

But I'm committed, I know that much. Not in the psych-ward sense, necessarily, but in that I know there's a reason I'm swimming here in exploration, and I have no intention of calling the test off. It's fabulous getting to know the city and its people again, spending so much time around people so sick, so connected to AIDS and IV drug use, and long histories of sadness. I learn so much.

Today I went to see a woman who didn't look like she would be going much further. She was small and dark black and frail and dying of abbreviations I haven't yet understood. And she wanted to pray and was laughing through the tubes in her face and had an ease (nothing dis- about it) of movement and smile and faith in the Good Lord. So we lifted our hearts in prayer to the Good Lord and I held her small hands in mind and she chorused every prayer I gave with hoots and hollers and hallelujah. I could feel the inspiration, had no idea what I was asking or thanking her Lord, but it just kept coming. A climactic AMEN at the end and shaking and shivering and she told right then she could FEEL the holy spirit. Feel it. And there she was, dying with the AIDS and everything, and perhaps more hopeful and confident than I have ever been.

Those were the first hands of the night.
Then I went upstairs to follow-up with a patient from last night, a teacher recovering from a disastrous collision. He watched a friend die and we're talking about her upcoming memorial service. It's the first time I forgot to bring the flute and I finally meet someone who would really appreciate it. So I bring the copy Reed gave me of Neruda's _Hands of the Day_ and start reading, in English. The patient loves it, ignores the TV and closes his eyes, keeps asking me to read more. So we go through the stars and the guilt and the use of the days. As I leave he pulls my proffered hand down to the cot for a giant hug. No greater love, no greater mercy, no greater reward.

And Neruda says:

O sun full of fingernails,
animal of gold, bumblebee,
sheepdog of the world,
our going astray,
we have arrived, we return,
we are already waiting
all together
in the corral of day.
Say we disobeyed that night,
say we left it to the sleep of the moon
to solve the mourning and the planets,
say we withdraw into ourselves,
into our own skin hungry
for love and a meal,
we again are
in the sheepfold,
your long spatulas of light,
your fingers that reach into everything,
your cohabitation of seed.

Soon everyone set about moving,
hurrying. Citizen,
the day is short and there the sun is like a bull
kicking in the sand:
hurry in search of your shovel,
your lever,
your kneading trough,
your thermometer,
your whistle,
your paintbrush or your scissors,
your plaster,
your freight elevator, your political bureau,
your potatoes at the market:
hurry, Ma'am, hurry
over here, this way, put your hands to good use,
we are running out of daylight.

The sun, with stakes, pierced joy,
hope, suffering,
it traveled from one side to the other with its rays
parceling out, attributing lands,
and everyone has to sweat
before it leaves
with its light for somewhere else
to begin and begin again,
while those on this side remained
motionless, sleeping
until Monday morning.

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