Friday, March 26, 2010

A Truth About Existence

I did not write the stuff below, it was a post on slactivist by Scaramouche that I thought really captures the silliness & tragedy of the human condition. Anyway I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

One of my favorite blogs, the Waiter Rant, speaks eloquently to what you described here. He once had this to say:

When looking death in the face things get very real very quickly……..

I’m twenty one and doing a stint as a chaplain’s aide in a large gritty urban hospital.

Part of my job is to bring Communion to people dying in the AIDS ward. Most of the people wasting away in their beds are uninsured junkies or prostitutes. This is long before antiretroviral therapy. AIDS is poorly understood. Some people still wear masks out of fear of contagion.

Many of the people dying in this place are wracked with guilt. Remember how people used to say AIDS was God’s punishment for sinners? That’s not an abstract concept for many of these people. A lot of them made disastrous life choices - the consequences of which are now, remorselessly, killing them.

I’m too young and emotionally under equipped to be any real help to these people. I just try and listen. That’s hard. Some patients scream at me, driven insane by secondary infections that are rotting their brains. Others are stonily silent – not wanting help from anybody. Occasionally people find peace but that's rare. They cry, they bargain, they pray. All the things people do as they rage against the dying of the light.

Maria is a drug addict. She got AIDS from years of mainlining heroin. Her baby, the result of exchanging sex for drugs, died of AIDS. She has no family or friends. She lies dying alone in a small room overlooking the hospital’s air conditioning plant. She hasn’t had a bath in days. The sweet sour smell of the unwashed is over powering.

“Hi Maria. I brought you Communion,” I whisper.

She looks at me weakly.

“Can I have some water?” she asks. She’s near the end.


I look for her water bottle. There is none.

“Where’s your water bottle?”

“The nurses won’t let me drink water,” she says.

Must be something going on with her kidneys. Stupid doctors. The woman's dying.

“Let me go ask the nurse what we can do,” I say.

“Thank you.”

I walk to the nurse’s station. A large woman sits behind the desk yakking on the phone with what seems to her girlfriend. She looks at me with complete disinterest.

I wait patiently for her to finish. She doesn’t.

I wait some more.

“Pardon me, Maria wants some water. Can I give her some?” I interrupt.

“Can’t you see I’m on the phone?” the nurse yells.

“Yes but….”

“I’ll be with you when I’m finished!”

So I wait. The nurse ends her call.

“Now, what do you want?” she says angrily.

“Can I give Maria some water?”

“She’s on restricted fluids you can’t.”

“How about some ice chips then? I think she has dry mouth.” I ask innocently.

The nurse throws her hands up in the air in frustration. “Yeah, go get the girl some ice chips for what good it'll do her. You can get them on the next unit.”

“Thank you,” I say.

I go over to the neighboring unit and fill a Styrofoam cup with ice. I walk back to Maria’s room.

“Maria I got you some ice chips.”

No response.


I walk over to the bed. She’s dead.

A wave of incredible anger sweeps over me. All this poor girl wanted was a drink of water. It turned out to be her last request

Even this small thing was denied her.

I crush the cup in my hands. Ice scatters on the floor. Hot tears run down my face. This girl had nothing – less than nothing. She died thirsty and alone.

It was then my innocence was taken.

I march out to the nurse’s station. The nurse is on the phone again. When she sees me a look of annoyance crosses her face. “Now wha….”

I slam my hand down on the counter. “MARIA IS DEAD!”

The nurse jumps out of her chair.


All hell breaks loose. A code is called. Security is called.

The attending shows up. There’s a do not resuscitate order. He pronounces Maria dead.

Security guards escort me to the pastoral care office where the Chaplin waits for me.

Instead of yelling at me for losing my temper he sits me down on his couch. He hands me a cup of coffee.

“What happened?” he asks gently.

I tell him everything.

A small smile crosses his face. “That nurse is a lazy bitch,” he says.

I laugh harshly.

“This is hard work son,” he says.

“I had no idea how hard.”

We’re quiet. I listen to the wall clock tick.

“When you were looking at Maria in that bed were you thinking about yourself?” the priest says suddenly.

The tears come again.


“What were you feeling?”

“That I never want to be alone like that.”

“Do you feel that alone?”

A truth I had been hiding from myself came bubbling up from the depths.

“Yes,” I start to sob.

The priest gets up and sits next to me. He gently and puts his arm around me. I cry till I feel like I’m going to shake apart.

When I finish the Chaplain says, “If you’re honest - trying to help people makes you confront the darkness in yourself.”


“Maybe you should work on feeling alone,” he adds.

“Kind of tough when you want to be a priest,” I reply.

“Maybe you should think about that.”

I’ve given my heart and soul to being a priest for four years. I’m supposed to go abroad to study theology next year. Now, for the first time, I realize it isn’t going to work out.

“God doesn’t want you to be unhappy,” the priest says.

“Then why drag me here and put me through all this for nothing?” I whisper.

“I don’t know.”

“God’s a real asshole sometimes isn’t he?” I say sadly.

The priest leans back and smiles. “A gigantic asshole.”

We both laugh.

A few months later I quit. ……

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