A few months ago, I returned to work as a hospital chaplain and have rediscovered what it's like to straddle the chasm between certainty and uncertainty, between clarity and obscurity.
The hospital constantly reminds me that uncertainty is the only form of certainty. If you come here seeking moral inevitability or religious certitude, you'll run headlong into insanity. For instance, if you believe that hell is reserved for those rejecting your faith brand, then follow me to the hospital bed of my Mormon stepfather. My Baptist upbringing taught me that Mormons go to hell, yet Bob breathed an inarguable faith until his last breath.
But if you are confident that there is no hell, then you must come to the treatment room where I met a girl who was ritualistically abused. Or sit on a chair with me listening to a woman describe how she beat her child comatose. Encounter these victims and you'll pray that there will be a hell for the ones who did this.
Once you step out of the certain world, you may never find anything indisputable again. For example, if you are convinced that the Affordable Care Act is a bad thing, come to the ER where the elderly clog the length of two hallways for 10 hours seeking relief for a persistent cough.
But don't be too sure that it's the right thing either. Remain with me in the ER as able-bodied people seek free treatment on the taxpayer dollar and it'll make you want to scream, “Get a job, get a life, and pay for your own medical insurance.”
If you want to march against abortions, then march with me into our hospital chapel, where I sat with a couple agonizing over her choice to abort her baby diagnosed with a genetic mutation, an infant who would die in his first weeks, or minutes, of life. If you are pro-choice, then pace the floor of that chapel where the weeping father begged his wife to deliver that baby. Or perhaps come to our neonatal ICU and watch a nurse diaper a 2-pound preemie.
If you are clear that we ought not to use any dramatic interventions to prolong the life of the terminally ill, then stand with me while the miracle of resuscitation gives a man his last chance to see his daughter.
Or if you think we ought to fight for every inch of life and use machines to keep people alive in whatever way possible, then clip your “God” name badge to your lapel and visit the wife who lost everything as she kept her nearly brain-dead husband “alive” for a few more months.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not promoting any of the above positions. I'm just saying that the hospital constantly reminds me that life is rarely, if ever, black and white. We don't have all the answers and the hospital tells me to listen more before I impose my beliefs on others. By the end of most days, I've witnessed hospital miracles capable of converting the atheist to a true believer, but I've also seen tragedies that have caused ministers to tear off their clerical collar in disgust. And I'm grateful to God that I've kept most of my faith.
So during National Nurses Month, let me say thank you to those who manage to choose this world. Thank you to all the people who are not afraid of the questions and never back away from the fight for life.
Norris Burkes is a syndicated columnist. Visit thechaplain.net.