“…just for an instant, the entire universe seemed perfectly balanced…”
Over the summer after my first year at university, I got a job as a porter at the hospital where my mother worked. Aside from all of the patient transport, waste disposal, message carrying and numerous other duties, one of our jobs was to move recently deceased patients from the wards to the hospital mortuary. Obviously, this was never going to be an easy job, but there was one shift that will stay with me forever.
I was working the backshift. That means 3pm-11pm. On your average day, you can expect to walk 18+ miles pushing loads. This wasn’t an average day. We’d had two porters call in sick, and the rest of us were running round like madmen trying to pick up the slack. I’d been assigned to biohazard waste, and by the time my break came around, I was exhausted. I had been in the canteen for ten minutes when my radio started bleeping – an incoming call from my supervisor.
He asked me to meet another porter and do a “Code 1” (hospital jargon for a deceased patient requiring movement to the mortuary) on the assessment ward. The assessment ward was my least favourite to do code 1’s from, since the patients don’t stay there long, they are almost always awake.
I met up with a fellow porter and went in to the ward, where we were faced with one of the worst things you will see in a hospital. The family of the deceased patient were just leaving. Their eyes swollen and red, obviously trying to hold back more tears. I couldn’t manage, and didn’t feel it appropriate, to give anything more than a subtle and respectful nod to them as we passed in to the ward. The other porter and I began to draw the curtains around the other patient’s beds, so they wouldn’t see the mortuary trolley. Nevertheless, many of them knew why we were there, and the entire ward descended in to a respectful silence. We moved the trolley to the patient’s bed and got ready for the transfer.
I looked at the name tag. It was a patient I knew. She’d been in and out and bounced between various wards for the last month. I had talked to her on several occasions. She was 87. This was the first time I’d ever moved a patient I’d had any contact with to the mortuary, so I was understandably feeling this one a little more. We moved her down to the mortuary, and returned to the canteen. Things seemed to be quieter now, but nobody was around. The other porter got called away, and I was left alone to contemplate our mortality. I was feeling a little grim.
About half an hour and 4 cups of coffee later, my radio came to life again. I was needed for a job up in maternity, since one of the sick porters was supposed to be working there. I didn’t know anything of the job; I was told I’d be informed when I arrived. The walk to the maternity ward goes through a depressing little underground tunnel. Even though it was dark out, the dingy, windowless corridor did nothing to enhance my mood.
I arrived, and was directed to the labour suites. There I was met by a nurse, a doctor, and a man standing next to a woman on a bed, holding their newly born baby daughter.
In that one little moment, when I saw that tiny child, all of my bad mood and morbid thoughts were lifted. They were replaced by a sense of harmony and peace. It’s hard to explain, and I don’t think I’d ever be able to tell this story in person, but just for an instant, the entire universe seemed perfectly balanced.
Just over a week later, my grandmother passed away. It was very sudden. She was a retired midwife.
Somehow, I felt like I had prepared for it.
Rob is a university student, studying engineering.
He wrote: “I would like to share my Zen moment with you and anyone you choose to share it with. I think that the timing of this moment was as important as the moment itself.”
Kindly contributed to Zen Moments by the author.
Photo: pouce-pouce by Raphael Goetter
The Prophet By Kahlil Gibran
“Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain…Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?
And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.”
From “The Prophet” – Kahlil Gibran Average customer review:
“In a distant, timeless place, a mysterious prophet walks the sands. At the moment of his departure, he wishes to offer the people gifts but possesses nothing. The people gather round, each asks a question of the heart, and the man’s wisdom is his gift. It is Gibran’s gift to us, as well, for Gibran’s prophet is rivaled in his wisdom only by the founders of the world’s great religions. On the most basic topics–marriage, children, friendship, work, pleasure–his words have a power and lucidity that in another era would surely have provoked the description “divinely inspired.” Free of dogma, free of power structures and metaphysics, consider these poetic, moving aphorisms a 20th-century supplement to all sacred traditions–as millions of other readers already have.” — Brian Bruya