In this series of articles we have looked at what it is to be worthy of respect. At first my attention was caught by the courage of several people who stood fast against forces that tried to deny them that right. Our sympathies spring forth readily when we hear such tales of determination and ethical fastidiousness.
Once I had finished the stories of valor which comprised my first article on dignity, I began looking more deeply at what makes us feel good about ourselves; what makes us feel worthy. For that is the root meaning of the word “dignity”: worth. As a choir member I know that well, as one of our liturgical chants is “Dignus Agnus” or “Worthy Is the Lamb.”
I found that we feel respect for ourselves when we are seeking the truth. As we seek with gentle determination to look more deeply within ourselves for the truth, we begin to get a sense of ourselves as people of substance. It is as though we are solving a very large puzzle when we seek beneath the surface of daily events for the threads that hold all things together.
Whatever thread we take hold of, whether it be something we have read or heard or a seemingly stray thought that has flitted through our minds, as we follow it to its source, we find that it has to do with love. Some threads have to do with the feeling that we are loved and found worthy — perhaps by the Creator, perhaps by some worldly authority or teacher. Some threads have to do with experiencing ourselves as loving beings.
There is tremendous strength in realizing how beloved we are to the infinite Creator. The instant we turn toward our Creator and place our intent upon journeying once more towards the eternal home in Godhead whence we came, the Creator is inviting the neighborhood and having a celebratory barbecue, in the style of the parable of the Prodigal Son. And how high our hearts beat when we see the welcome awaiting us! We do belong. We do have a home. All is truly well.
There is enormous joy, as well, in flexing the muscles of our power to love. The examples I have cited — Joshua Wolf, Hines Ward, Bassam Aramin and Ehren Watada — were all pressing a good deal of ethical and spiritual weight as they honored their beliefs and opinions. They dug deep to find the truth. They stood tall in holding to their truth.
I went to the emergency room at the hospital last week with a cluster of symptoms that seemed to indicate a heart problem. Shortness of breath, chest pain radiating down my right arm and severe discomfort had brought me to this task. My doctor and I had talked, and she planned to do several tests to check out my symptoms.
I was immediately struck, when I checked into the emergency room, by how disempowering the hospital environment is. After the traditional bean-counting routine, in which clerks took my insurance information and determined that I had the financial right to be ill in their facility, things went downhill fast.
I was, within minutes of being given a berth along the walls of the ER, pinioned and stilled by an impressive array of leashes. Oxygen lines were hooked into my nostrils. A blood pressure cup imprisoned one arm, while the other hand was pierced by the IV nurse and a set-up for administering medicine intravenously or taking blood was secured. And I do mean secured! My entire hand, already somewhat small and weak, was utterly squeezed and wrapped in layers of shiny tape. To complete the imprisonment, a pulse counter was taped to the index finger of the IV hand and three wires were connected to receivers on my chest which reported heart activity to a monitor.
It was interesting to me that the monitor itself was behind me, as was the clock. I had no way of knowing what time it was or what the monitor was reporting. As a person, I did not exist. I was a body that needed examination. There was no dignity or worth available for myself as a soul in this environment, at least not from the exterior characters in my play or the events of my day.
I was given a bracelet containing a slew of numbers, including my account number and date of birth. Those who dealt with me from then on did not look at my face but at my bracelet. Perhaps they had been deceived in the past by sneaky folks who gave them a false name. For whatever reason, probably having to do with being sued, no one was willing to take my word for who I was. The bracelet and its many numbers contained my only valid identity now.
After a total of eight tubes of blood were drawn by lab technicians whose appetites would do Dracula proud, I was left in splendid isolation while the lab tests were run. I had come in fasting. During this time, which lasted until well after 3 p.m., I was given nothing to eat or drink.
I have interstitial cystitis, which condition occasions sudden and sometimes frequent visits to the bathroom. So I spent my waiting time unhooking my various wires and appendages, maneuvering my way through the business of going to the bathroom while saving my precious IV set-up, and then re-hooking myself up to the machinery, back at my bed. Only once during this long waiting time was I visited by a nurse. This was because I had hooked up two heart wires backward and so the monitor was not giving proper information.
The first round of tests offered occasion for continuing concern. The doctors decided to admit me overnight and do further tests the next day — a stress test, an echo-cardiogram of my heart and an MRI of my right shoulder and arm. My husband came back to the hospital with my traps and I settled into my goldfish-bowl and roosted, sleeping very well thanks to my complete exhaustion.
Obviously, a person who comes to the ER does not feel well. However, this was ignored by all the personnel involved as being unimportant. They were not being rude or uncaring. They were going at the process of technical medical diagnosis with a fervor reserved, in previous centuries, for issues of religious faith. My discomfort was not important. Ruled by the fear that I may have a heart episode in progress, they were strictly out to determine how my heart was faring.
I was awakened before the dawn to be informed that I would have the three tests starting at 7 a.m. Feeling faint already, ill and vastly uncomfortable, I was given one test which lasted three hours, door to door, then two more which lasted over an hour apiece, one right after the other. It was a nightmare of lying on an inadequate gurney along corridor walls waiting for the big machines and the techs to slot me in.
If I had come in feeling entirely well, this long testing period would have exhausted me. If I had indeed been having a heart episode, the effort would likely have tipped me over into a heart attack or stroke. We as a culture do not do well, faced with illness. We’re long on tests and short on TLC.
I became intimately familiar, at one point, with the peculiarly lattice-like structure of the ceiling lighting in my corridor. Along another hall, I was parked under an electrical outlet, where I had the kindly company of the winking face made by the slots and reset button. Well, if you look at anything for long enough, you start to see faces in the designs!
There were two things that saved my state of mind during those hours away from all comfort: my sense of humor and my sense of self-worth. Thanks be to the Creator for both.
With good humor I could dolly back from the details and get a better overview of the whole drama. This work needed doing to satisfy my doctors as to how to help me. This would be over soon.
With my self-worth intact, I was able to use my time well. Time is a very plastic and malleable thing. As I wrote recently to my friend in hospice, who had commended me on my strength, we only have to be strong for a moment at a time. And in between each moment, there is ample “time” to remember to pray for help.
As I prayed, there in the ER, help arrived instantly. The guidance whom I call Holly, my name for the Holy Spirit who talks with me daily, embraced me and cuddled me, on that uncomfortable gurney, along those subterranean halls, until my heart soared free, and my Alleluias of thanks and praise once again rang out within my soul.
I called the archangels: Raphael, Gabriel, Michael and Uriel. Wings wide, love beaming from their blessed faces, they walked before, behind and on each side of me through all the halls and noisy procedures. From moment to moment, my heart was kept safe and sound, bathed and swaddled in love as surely as any babe in its mother’s arms.
Eventually, the hospital completed its tests and let me go home. Not one of my complaints had been addressed. No diagnosis was made. (I do have a dickey heart, but nothing is bad enough to fix.) “They” have no idea why I keep fainting. None of the symptoms with which I presented was fixed, cured, healed or even medicated. However, the hospital could say for sure that I was not having a heart episode. So they were satisfied.
We on Earth have this in common: We age; we become ill; we will eventually pass from this experience through the gateway of death to larger life. Along the way we will be subjected to various indignities by hospital personnel who wish only to help us, but whose idea of help involves tests and numbers rather than emotional support. For that emotional and spiritual support, we shall need to recruit our own inner strength and rely upon those resources which love holds for us within our consciousness.
The good news is that we are quite able to do this. For love is with us always. If we ask, we shall receive. If we knock, the door shall be opened.
I open my arms and embrace your spirit. When times are hard, remember love. Remember that you are loved. Remember that you are those who love. Remember that your very nature is love. And let your spirit soar free!