For several years, I have been giving the medical students and residents in my charge an essay titled Morning Report. It was written by a young internal medicine resident physician, Dr. Sonia Singh, who finds herself madly racing about her morning rounding. She describes how she answers innumerable pages, writes countless orders, exams a dozen and a half patients, and climbs up and down, up and down the same flight of stairs, never having the time to appreciate the poems or paintings that adorn the wall. As she goes about her business, her eyes are forever fixed on the clock. 7:00, 7:30, 9:30, 9:55. She is trying to care, but she needs to get to the resident medical conference (known as Morning Report) by 10 a.m.
But it is the patient, a retired nurse with the pancreatic mass, who makes young Sonia Singh pause. As the two women finish exchanging witty banter, they acknowledge that today the biopsy results will return. With no words and a palpable heaviness, they sense that it won’t be good. Though the clock is ticking and Morning Report draws ever nearer, Sonia sits on the bed’s edge for just a moment. She looks at this stoic but warm nurse and, for a fleeting second, sees that she is beginning to well up. So Sonia reaches for her hand and begins to well up too. Before long, Sonia is being shooed away by the nurse telling her not to be late to Morning Report. They hurriedly brush away tears and go their separate ways. But this was a moment…a profound and transcendent moment. It was devoid of any clear solution or plan. It offered no pat or trite advice. It simply and wordlessly said, I care. Sonia Singh would call it the most important sixty seconds of her day.
When I shared this story with a friend of mine, he shared with me a story about a Presbyterian minister written by Michael Lindvall. The pastor was struggling with flagging church membership and his failing attempts to augment the numbers through kickoffs and initiatives and growth strategies. Looking from the global view of what he was actually achieving at this mid to late hour of his career, he ached. Was any of it worth it? Was he destined to be a forgotten mediocrity leading a small church of tepid souls? Careworn, he walked to the barbershop.
The aging barber, in his seventies, engaged the pastor in small talk. What is your work like? What do you do on days other than Sunday? But as the pastor described his work, the barber’s tone changed. He slipped into stories of his childhood, especially about his parents. And then, the author described this:
My haircut was done; we were alone in the shop. A scissors in one hand and a comb in the other, he was resting them both on my shoulders as he talked. He talked about how his old man mercilessly beat him and his mother most every Saturday night. He talked about how afraid he was, about how much he loved and hated his father. He said he had never told anybody about this before, not in sixty years. His mother, he said, carried the secret to her grave. Nobody had ever guessed. We were both facing the big barbershop mirror. His eyes were reddening. We looked at each other in the mirror in a way we could not have face to face. I reached to my shoulders and held his hands, and said something about when you forgive somebody it doesn’t mean that you are saying that what they did was all right.
That was a moment. A tremendously human moment. Likewise, later that evening, the pastor had a few more moments with his deliciously sleepy children who fought to stay up only to hear Daddy read Ramona the Pest. And heavy with sleep, he laid them down in their beds, covered them up, looked at them, and kissed them so very gently.
These moments changed him. All the strategies, all the aspirations, all the feelings of woe wrapped up in best laid plans that went astray didn’t matter anymore. These moments—these sublime, deeply human moments—are short-lived. Like a bubble, they are there and then they are gone. And if one isn’t careful, if one isn’t paying attention, these moments of profound grace—a simple kiss from God—are missed. It is what we are here for—these moments. It is what we are hungry for. Without doubt, these moments are fast and they are fleeting.
But they are eternal.
Praise be to God.