Faith. A simple word with complicated meaning. It is a seed buried deep within our spiritual cores, ready to be nourished and blossom with the sprinklings of tragedy. It is a belief that things will work out, despite our lack of vision for fate’s secretive reasons of the bumpy journey we must endure. It is an inherent hope that has either sustained us or has failed us miserably. Yes, to me, this is faith.
We all have known faith. Embraced it. Bargained with it. Coddled it within our breaking hearts. Placed it on a pedestal of worship. I have, too. With undertones that may be religious, spiritual, or meditative, we lean against its pillars of reassurance. Sometimes, as they say, it is all we have to cling to during desperate times.
Working in an emergency room for 16 years, I have seen faith present its various faces many times. It may be within the circle of a grieving family, their hands clasped in prayer. It may be in the young mother’s eyes, watchful of her sick child lying in a hospital cot. It may be in the older gentleman’s anguished cries as I share the devastating results of his wife’s testing. It may be in the silent strength of the obvious love of a dying man’s partner. It may be in the ER staff’s comforting whispers. Faith cannot be contained, especially in tragic circumstances. I tend to think it is a part of the coping fabric that threads all of our lives.
Why do I think that? Because, those moments of my life where I had to believe in something more, where I had to dig deep within the rubble of my soul to scrape a little bit of sanity, were during intense, personal moments. My son’s illness. My mother’s death. My grandmother’s death. A life-threatening injury to my father. I swear, when my mother and my son were both simultaneously enduring chemotherapy, I stared faith right in the face and bargained with it. Threatened it, even. ”If something happens to my son,” I uttered to invisible universal ears while pulling at my hair, “I will never forgive you for it.” Yes, I know faith. It has been my best friend and my worst enemy.
After my son’s initial diagnosis, I stood in the hospital corridors outside of his pediatric room, disheartened and in disbelief. Cole had just returned from the OR where a mediport had been placed in preparation for an aggressive initial round of chemotherapy. My spiritual guidance, Father Tom, stood beside me, recognizing my slipping faith. ”Why Cole?” I asked, over and over, tearful and angry. ”Why couldn’t it have been me? What kind of world do we live in for a child to endure this?”
Father Tom, in his infinite wisdom, answered my pleas with words that I still carry to this day. His words, to me, exemplify the true nature of faith. ”Jim,” he said, his voice husky and comforting, his arm wrapped around my trembling shoulders, “I can’t answer your questions. I wish I could, but I can’t.” He paused slightly, choosing his words. ”I can only pray that at some point in Cole’s life, on his journey, the answers of ‘Why?’ will become more evident. That the reasons will be more clear to all of us of why he was chosen to endure this illness.” In other words, in staring at a big, suffocating fog of nothingness, Father Tom was telling me that I must have faith.
How does one do that?
At my rock bottom, the openness of my mind was staggering. I listened to any words of support and encouragement, my hopes and faith hinging onto any little hint of a better tomorrow. I’d walk away from family and friends, my mind reeling and spitting out their words to suit my recovery, my belief system. Ultimately, I learned to believe that all things in our lives happen for a reason. I had to arrive at the belief that Cole would survive and thrive, that the years we will have together would be many. To not arrive at this point would have meant a certain death in an unattainable part of my core. I was learning to survive by walking the path that my faith created.
Cole survived. And as I type these words, I whisper a silent thank you to those universal ears of faith that fulfilled my every request.
Every day, though, followed by every week, every month, and every year, there is more profound sadness, more tragedy, that requires us to dig deep and rediscover our faith. To recommit ourselves to examine our morals and ideals while we cope with a crisis. A few years back, another setback occurred in my life, plummeting me even farther into my spiritual well. Cole had veered from remission while my mother concurrently fought a losing battle against leukemia. And I was back to the same dark place that I had turned my back on just a few years earlier.
Again, though, my faith sustained me. It wasn’t easy. But now, with things going well, especially after my very own first health setback, I sit here and appreciate the moments of goodness in my life. I have learned, from these various experiences, to give my attention to faith during the good times, too. My faith has been tested and tried and, fortunately, has sustained me in my times of need. It is my time to feed some nourishment back, during the good times, to those who have surrounded me with smiles and encouragement and and unwavering friendship and love. A phone call. A card. A lunch date. A smile. Some kind words.
It is a two-way street that I have learned to travel with faith.
Where does your life sit right now, on this very day? Are things going well for you? Are you facing crisis? Are you recovering from or approaching a trying moment? Are you engaged in the environment surrounding your life? How is your support system? And, most importantly, how is your faith? Do you think maybe that little seed patiently waiting to sprout within you, in a moment of need, might appreciate a little attention now? If so, give it some. Sow it. Water it. Feed it. Coddle it. Embrace it. The effort taken now to examine and understand your faith will reap you rewards when you most need them.
All around me, including dear family and friends, including strangers and patients in the ER, I see daily struggles occurring. At times, I feel helpless and out of sorts, my seat on the sidelines but a useless location to witness another’s misery. But I know, from continuing to grow as a compassionate and kind person, that good times will prevail if one can just hang in there. So, please, just hang in there.
And have a little …
“StorytellERdoc” is an emergency physician who blogs at his self-titled site, StorytellERdoc.