I didn’t know his name was Stanley. But then there is a lot I don’t know about the people I visit in hospitals. As a Minister I visit people in a variety of settings; their home, a coffee shop, in the church office, a nursing home, a hospital, an emergency ward. These visits are usually quite uneventful, we exchange information, usually the person I am visiting shares some of their life story and I learn more about their narrative, the arc of their lives, highlights and challenges. I do not remember all of these visits, nor do I write down information. I worry such notes could fall into the wrong hands, not so much that people would seek this out as I might leave them somewhere by mistake that puts the information in public view. So everything people tells me stays in my memory, what I can remember. I find that what I remember has a lot to do with unique events and stories, areas where s/he and I have common interests and pending issues that require follow-up. Of course the more interaction between us the better chance I will remember the story.
But there is a certain pattern that such visits hall into, introductions, where we are from, where we went to school, significant others that came into our lives, careers, church affiliations, how the other came to this specific church, health concerns, immediate concerns, and the joys one takes from life. From these exchanges come pieces of information that I remember and hold to for next time, where the conversation that pick up. My biggest flaw in these situations is confusing one person with another, two people whose looks and stories are similar and thus their stories and names become interchangeable in my mind. I need to guard against that.
Last night I learned just before supper time that a parishioner was in hospital. I was already on my way to the Brunswick Street United Church study time and worship service 6-8 pm so did not have time to visit then. It was not life and death and I knew the parishioner would still be awake at 8:30 pm. So after staying goodbye to a new parishioner at BSUC who was returning to China I made my way over the bridge for my last stop of the evening. Downtown Dartmouth and Woodside was very quiet last night, and there was little street light, it was an overall feeling of quiet darkness. Hardly any cars were parked in the free parking spaces between the hospital and the law courts. My walk into the hospital was slow and deliberate.
The whole experience was in slow motion, which was odd for me as I tend to do everything in fast forward. The setting, the fact it was the last thing to do that day and that the next day would be a holiday all contributed to a calm and serene context for the visit. The man I visited was surprised to see me at 8:30 pm. He had been shaving and was fresh faced, there was glow around his white hair. He was relaxed, relieved that things seemed to be turning around, and tired. I did not plan to stay long. We eased into the conversation and it was a gentle back and forth throughout. I kept checking his eyes and body language but he grew more animated, smiling, and talking, as the conversation continued. When it was time to go we shared a prayer and a warm handshake. From looking above him I learned his first name was Stanley, no one ever called him that. But I also learned that such a setting allowed for an easy conversation that is rare to find. The connection seemed to linger a little longer than usual.
As I drove home through the rain I felt the calm and the warmth and I realized that this would be hard to replicate in other settings, other days. But I hoped that this would happen again. I remember little of the information from this visit but much of the feeling that developed. That was a blessing.