I've been going to visit a woman in intensive care. She sleeps a lot, so I read scripture, pray, sometimes sing a hymn. I figure she can hear me. I don't know how she's doing.
My father-in-law spent a week in intensive care before he died. We thought he was going to get better, but he didn't.
Intensive care can be a scary place: all the machines and tubes and noises, people scurrying around. Sometimes you're just there for a day; sometimes intensive care goes on for a long time, and you don't really know what will be the outcome. And sometimes you know, but you don't want to face it.
"It's really a spiritual crisis, isn't it?" she said to me at the end of our conversation.
We were talking about health care: she's a nurse, and she was talking about some of the end-of-life issues she deals with when she cares for older patients. Sometimes a patient will confide in her that they really don't want to go through a difficult surgery, but that their children are pressuring them; sometimes a doctor will wonder about doing an invasive surgery for someone in their eighties. Will their bodies be able to handle it? they wonder. But if the person's mind is active, shouldn't they do the surgery anyway, on the outside chance of a good outcome? Then there is the emerging language about "death panels", and "health care rationing", all because of language in the health care bill about "end of life discussions." (The language has now been removed.)
"It's really a spiritual crisis, isn't it?" she said at the end of our conversation.
What she meant was this: as a nation, we cannot speak well about death, about the fact that we are all going to die someday. Of course, this is universally true; there's that old gospel song with the title "Everybody wants to go to heaven (but nobody wants to die)". But I think that this has become especially true in the United States in this time. Both modern medicine and technology conspire to make us think that we can do anything we want, live as long as we want, fix every problem -- even death. But someday, we are all going to die; even when we save a life, it is only temporary. We are not immortal. But we have a hard time looking at death, talking about death, acknowledging death.
It's a spiritual crisis, as my nurse friend says. It's a spiritual crisis that we do everything to cover up the truth of the fact that our bodies tire out, wear out, give out. It's a spiritual crisis because our behavior has become driven by our fear rather than our hope.
Intensive care. Some people get intensive care, and others do not. Some people are afraid that they will be thrown away when they are old, and others are being thrown away right now, because of fear. And it's a spiritual crisis, a crisis where our fear of death speaks louder than our hope for life -- both this life and the life to come.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all you strength, with all your mind. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Your neighbor as yourself. What does that mean? It means that I want my neighbor to have the same things I have: a meaningful life, an opportunity to work, good health, friends and family. It means that I want my neighbor to know abundance, and to have hope in dying.
It's a spiritual crisis, isn't it?