Someone to Listen
“Sometimes it’s not the strength but gentleness that cracks the hardest shells.”
—Richard Paul Evans, Lost December
It was the middle of the night and she wouldn’t stop screaming. The woman was swearing and crying and upset and the nurses couldn’t figure out what was wrong with her. Did something hurt? Did she have a bad dream? She couldn’t calm down to answer them. One of them finally suggested that they call the chaplain.
My pager went off at 2:30 a.m. I'm a chaplain at a large city hospital. I’d just spent two hours with a family who lost their son to yet another senseless act of gun violence, and had lain down hoping to sneak in a few minutes of sleep before the next call came. The nurse on the phone said they didn’t know what to do with this patient and thought maybe I could talk to her. If I couldn’t help, they might have to move her to the psychiatric unit.
I entered the room to see a large, heavily-tattooed African-American woman sitting on the side of the bed half-crying, half-cursing at the empty room. I took a deep breath and thought to myself, Here we go. I didn’t know what to expect. I introduced myself and pulled up a chair facing her.
I asked softly, “What’s going on?” After fifteen minutes, I learned that she’d left her purse on the bed when they took her downstairs for tests. When she came back, the purse – containing her rent money and her deceased husband’s ashes – was gone. She tried telling the nurses and security but she said no one wanted to help her.
After I called security and helped her file a report, she was much calmer. She shared her life story with me: how she’d put herself through college and graduate school, been a singer and had even written a book. She was amazing! But no matter how much she accomplished, she said, people would judge her by her appearance without even giving her a chance.
We talked for over an hour about all kinds of things. I prayed with her. When I got up to leave, she started to cry again. To this day, I can still hear her saying, “Thank you. I just wanted someone to listen to me.”
May we all be seen and heard and loved.