It was a beautiful day in Atlanta. Most of my day had been spent in the Emory library so I decided to take a late afternoon walk/run. I found myself running in a beautiful Decatur neighborhood. People were out walking their dogs, getting exercise, visiting across yards. What I did not see, however, was the broken sidewalk just ahead of me. In an instant I twisted my ankle and crashed down on my right elbow, breaking a bone. I now have a new perspective on America’s crumbling infrastructure!
And yet, this unfortunate and painful experience allowed me the opportunity to meet people I would have never met had I not ended up in the emergency room that evening. There is a kind of social leveling that takes place in the hospital emergency room. And so I sat there with others who were dealing with a variety of health problems but none serious enough to be taken to their room immediately. I had quite a lengthy conversation with the man waiting for x-rays. He told me that this was not his first trip to the emergency room. A few years ago he had been the victim of a drive-by shooting in Atlanta and he showed me the place where the bullet had entered his skull. He told me the story of lying on the parking lot of the gas station after he had been shot. A woman came up to him and said, ”Can you hear me? Can you hear me?” But the man told me he could hear her but could not respond. The woman thought he was dead. He had quite a story to tell.
A little while later I was wheeled into a room where a little girl sat with her mother. She had just had a breathing treatment, obviously dealing with an asthma attack. And now she waited until the doctor felt it was safe to discharge her. I told the little girl that I had a daughter who, when she was younger, had to take breathing treatments, too. She smiled. The little girl’s mother asked me in broken English what had happened as she pointed to my bandaged ankle and elbow. I told her that exercise was not always a good idea! A few moments later, the discharge nurse came and told the little girl and her mother that they could leave. The girl waved bye, and the mother, in broken english, gave me a blessing for good health as she left.
Unfortunate, unexpected, and unwelcome events in our lives can sometimes be the very experiences that open us up to the presence of God-with-us. Sometimes it takes events that move us outside of our comfort zone to encounter persons and stories that we would have otherwise never seen or heard.
Now don’t get me wrong, I would love to go back in time and choose a different route for that afternoon run. But I am grateful for the opportunity to meet and share stories with other vulnerable human beings. We were in situations of dependence, waiting for the care we needed. But somehow our little bit of shared community made our individual problems a bit more bearable.
I think that’s a kind of parable for life in the Church. We are each on a spiritual journey as we seek to live as disciples of Jesus. But there is a great gift in making this journey in community, sharing our stories, our struggles, and our joy. God intends for us to share this life together, a lesson I learned again in the Emergency Room.