Nunc Dimittis

Three priests walk into my bistro.

No, this isn’t a setup for some awful joke – three padres sit in my section. They’re dressed in civilian clothes but I make them instantly. Former Catholic seminarians can spot priests a mile away. Perhaps it’s the clothes; the standard off duty Dockers and conservative button down shirts. Maybe it’s the odor of sanctity about them. Perhaps it’s because they’re always slightly uptight in public. God forbid someone sees them acting out of character; tell a dirty joke or have too much to drink.

“Hello Fathers” I say merrily.

The eldest of the trio smiles broadly. They’re busted.

“How did you know?” he says.

“Once a Catholic…..” I shrug.

“Well you’re very perceptive.”

“Thanks Father.”

The two younger guys order gin and tonics. The eldest orders a club soda. I’ll wager he’s a recovering drunk – uses grape juice instead of wine at Mass. It would make sense. Alcoholism is an occupational hazard for priests.

Come to think of it, it’s an occupational hazard for waiters too.

The priests order off the menu. They say please and thank you. They’re dream customers.

After I deliver their entrees I stand off to the side and listen in on their conversation. They discuss their jobs in the verbal shorthand priests use when they talk to each other in public. Having been in that subculture I understand every word.

I listen to them talk shop. Not much has changed since I left the seminary in 1990. But then again people and their problems never change.

I walk to the back and pour myself a short espresso. Seeing these guys reminds me about the time I studied for the priesthood. I was eighteen when I joined up – an idealistic firebrand who gloried in debating the finer points of theology and philosophy.

But the priesthood, and ministry in general, is not about that stuff. Not really. It’s about dealing with the passions and fears of flesh and blood people in the here and now.

Angels dancing on the head of a pin dissolve into nothingness at the bedside of a dying child.

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.

“Sure.”

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.

“Maria?”

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.

“DON’T YOU GIVE A SHIT YOU LAZY BITCH? SHE’S DEAD!” I bellow.

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.

“Yes.”

“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.”

“Yeah,”

“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. ………….

Now, fifteen years later, I look at the priests sitting in my section. I smile.

I’m no longer that young seminarian from long ago.

I changed. I grew.

I’m still growing.

But I’ll never forget the kindness and wisdom that priest afforded me on that terrible day.

I buy my priests some dessert.

“Thank you!” the eldest says as I set down the tiramisu.

“Just trying to shave time off in purgatory Padre,” I chuckle.

“Well, none for me,” the younger priest says throwing up his hands.

He’s about my age. I look him in the eye.

“Faith is tempered in the fires of desire.” I say.

He considers that for a moment.

“Well maybe just this once,” he says grabbing a spoon.

They polish off dessert and leave a nice tip. The night ends. I go home.

I drive home thinking about the priests, Maria, and my time in seminary. When I get home I pull an old leather book of the shelf.

It’s my old breviary from seminary. I still have it.

The binding is loose. The pages are worn. I open it.

The one priestly habit I never lost was to slip important things inside my breviary. The book is stuffed with funeral cards, birth announcements, and love letters; pictures of friends dead and gone.

I pull one picture out. It’s a Polaroid of my brother and I when we were teenagers. We look so awkward. He’s getting married next month. Soon I’ll put a photo of him and his lovely bride in this book – the repository of memories.

I turn the pages till I get to Night Prayer. There’s a prayer there called the Nunc Dimittis.

I silently read the words I chanted years ago.

“Lord let your servant go in peace;
your word has been fulfilled;

my own eyes have seen the salvation
which you have prepared in the sight of every people.

A light to reveal you to the nations
and the glory of your people Israel.”

I close the book.

Now, years later, God and I sometimes get along.

I’m strangely peaceful.

I turn off the light and go to bed.


Comments

Nunc Dimittis — 109 Comments

  1. This post really moved me.

    My wife is a nurse at a children’s hospital in the city. She used to work on the Medical Care floor, which houses the deathbeds for many children with AIDS. Almost all of them were infected with HIV in the womb.

    It is very sad but peaceful there. The end-stage AIDS patients on Medical Care usually have Do-Not-Resuscitate orders and are ready to accept their fate.

    Now my wife works in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. The children are much sicker there, and the end-stage AIDS patients suffer for far too long. Often, the parents are far too busy finding their next score to spend any time with their child and see his suffering.

    Working in a field that has nothing whatsoever to do with the ordinary world, I still find it unnerving when my wife comes home and says, “It was a good day at work. That little girl finally died.”

  2. Your stories always resonate a chord in me. Today has been a tough day personally for me. Reading the words of the Nunc Dimitis were a comfort. I’m a singer and have sung those words so many times.

    Maria… water as a dying request. How very tragic.

    Thank you for writing.

    Godspeed… chanteuse

  3. That chaplain is/was a good and wise man; how wonderful that you had him to work under.

    “And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward” (Matthew 10:42).

  4. And of course, Night Prayer ends with the plea, “May the all powerful Lord grant us a restful night, and a death.”

    God bless. And keep that breviary.

  5. You would think that since those patients were dying anyway why not make them more comfortable? Methinks they were just tired of changing her bed, perhaps? Lazy bitch, indeed.

    My grandmother used to hound my fave aunt to find a nice man and get married. Grandpa would then tell her there are worse things in life than being alone. Sometimes we just know what’s right without even trying to figure it out; it’s like God does it for us.

    God bless you.

  6. Heartbreaking and beautiful. I’ve linked to it from the log for my ongoing Chill rpg because it speaks so eloquently of the decisions faced by those following the path of sacrifice for faith. Thank you.

  7. very nice writing waiter… very nice… you made my week.

    ps, I’d like to know your favorite books and authors.

  8. That was very poignant. You are an excellent writer, and this is the type of material that will make blogs-turned-book sell (not that superficial drivel at Clublife). Thanks so much for sharing, and I apologize for leaving comments this way…my computer won’t load Haloscan.

  9. The movement of your post is sublime. The transition from present stimulus to past turning point is almost Proustian (if such a word exists), but with a more profound pay-off.

    Like many here, I make your rant a frequent stop. As a fellow fledgling writer and blogger, I am in awe. Bravo on a truly beautiful reflection.

  10. Thanks for helping me to reconnect to my own humanity. Your piece was required reading for everyone in my family.

  11. Dear articulate and big-hearted Waiter, your Nunc Dimittis is a powerful piece of writing, which leaves me respecting your integrity as a person and inspired by the thought you give to living.

    I enjoy all your writing.

  12. That was good. Thanks.

    However…

    However inappropriate and unfeeling the nurse was, she should not be blamed too much. The order not to give the patient fluids was by a doctor. The nurse was only carrying out the doctor’s orders. But the doctor should not be blamed either.

    Why no fluids? Because a failing body cannot handle them properly, and they may wind up in the wrong place. Like the lungs. Death by drowning — which is what happens then — is worse than death by dehydration. Terminal cancer patients often die from dehydration. Of all the ways to die, that’s one of the least bad.

    It’s okay to moisten the lips and the mouth, and that should have been done. But you cannot give the patient what she really wants, because that would make her inevitable death even worse. At the end of life, there are often no good choices, only less bad ones.

  13. i often thought it would be more humane to administer something that would do it painlessly and quickly. however, i understand our beliefs about taking life will be sorely tested if that is done. i personally would prefer a quick death given by a qualified person, rather than a long one from starvation and dehydration. but i guess it will be a long time before society changges its ideas of the sacredness of life, and keeping a body alive as long as possible irregrdless of the quality of life.

  14. Posting a reply to Anthony, 2 comments above: the alternatives are not between killing a person by administering something and keeping a person alive as long as possible at all costs. Neither of those possibile actions respects the uniqueness and mystery of our lives. Caring for someone, doing everything possible to ease their pain without directly causing their death, and removing any treatment or intervention that artificially prolongs life is the best option.

  15. Wow, this blew me away. What a beautiful story and how beautifully told. What I really like is the way you left the edge in it, provided no answers. You withstood that temptation so what was good became great.

    peace,

  16. Well, not much to say..is there? I’ve been in similar circumstances. Did the 4 units of CPE and all that. I’ve never been in a Aids ward, but I’ve been in the NICU and a Cancer hospital. I’ve never seen a pretty death. All I can do is shake my head in wonder, sadness, and sometimes with a little hope… but only sometimes.

    Tim

  17. That was amazing, I am thankful for your candor, your humor, and your willingness to share both. Sometimes, when I lie awake at night, or when I write a prayer for worship, I think God can be a gigantic asshole as well. I rarely reprimand myself for saying it, and I encourage that for others who question and doubt just like me. I am glad you had someone present who accepted your presence rather than corrected you…

    grace and peace

  18. God can be such a gigantic a$$hole and then take me in His arms and carry me like a small child. What a wonderful God we serve.I think all our prosperity gospel “friends” should have to spend some time beside a dying friend or stranger.
    On the Journey,

  19. beautiful. thank you. i’m a seminarian myself, and haven’t yet met death like you have… just read about it. let’s hope i can learn like you did.

  20. Wow. What a powerful and sad post. And beautifully written. I don’t know what else to say except thank you for sharing it.

  21. The nurse was just plain wrong. I hope somebody slung up her ass for that.

    Maria isn’t thirsty anymore. But the rest of us all are.

    Excellent essay. Keep up the good work.

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

    And I think, lo these many years later, perhaps you at last have an answer to that question? (If not, re-read what you wrote. As often as necessary. Then read and re-read all the comments.)

    Turns out, God is not such an asshole after all — just doesn’t always operate in the timeframe we would like.

    Thanks for giving me some much needed perspective today.

  23. This is an amazing story! How very tragic, and at the same time, in a weird way….very encouraging. My perspective of how good I really have it became a little more clear. Even then, I think how selfish of me to think only of what I gained from reading this post. Quite an eye-opener.

  24. Beautifully written, and very poignant piece. Having just helped a dear friend who lived alone, to die, I read this and felt so thankful for the opportunity to be with him when he left this earth. Glad you had someone understanding to help you through that sad and difficult experience. These are the moments that give us a glimpse of who we really are. Tina

  25. What have I been missing by not reading you till now!!

    You know that intimacy with God, where you can call Him an asshole, may be the most Jewish thing about Christianity . . .

    Beautiful and powerful. Thank you.

  26. I don’t believe in God, but I believe in our power to bring grace and love into each other’s lives. It’s as hard a faith as any. Thanks for renewing it with your words.

  27. How fitting that the lectionary Gospel assigned for this Sunday is from Matthew: And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is my disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.”

  28. I read something last night on a blog that starts with “PW” that was really forced and contrived. This was awesome.

  29. Powerful story, but when did God develop a responsibility for our personal happiness? Hadn’t it occurred to you that the chaplain told you a lie about “God not wanting us to be unhappy” to give you an out? And that perhaps the chaplain was so wise because he laid aside his personal happiness to embrace the suffering of others? I suspect he didn’t lay it completely aside, of course…I suspect he learned to find it wherever he could. But I doubt the pursuit of happiness was the driving force behind his life…or he would not have been there for you.

  30. Ah, but Maria did not die alone, nor, do I believe, was her last wish unfulfilled–just her next-to-last wish, and even then she had the comfort of your kindness of trying to get the water for her. Christ in you, serving her.

    “. . . And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore are they before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple: and he that sitteth on the throne shall dwell among them. They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.” Rev 7:14-17

  31. When people asked you why you left the seminary, it’s often not an easy thing to explain, is it?

    Nicely done, sir.

  32. Waiter -

    Just wondering how you and that ‘gigantic asshole’ are getting along these days. He’s not such a bad guy, you know?

    I enjoyed your post.

  33. Altogether worth reading. Thanks.

    But, BTW, one small criticism: alcoholism is not an occupational hazard for priests any more than it is for carptenters or bricklayers. It is an occupational hazard for drunks.

  34. That was an amazing recounting. I volunteer with children with AIDs, and your recounting was dignified, real and poignant.

  35. Thank you for sharing that ~ it will resonate for a long time.

    Railing as I do against the greed here in Indonesia, it’s salutory to be reminded that there is selfishness throughout the world.

    And good people too.

    Again, thank you.

  36. Like St. Photini at the well, Maria has been given the Living Water and will never thirst again. Your sorrow for her and for yourself will be healed one day. Thank you for reminding us all of what it is to be human.

  37. Dear Waiter,
    “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21.)

    Think now on how many, many people have wispered a prayer for Maria. Is she without friend or family in the larger view? She is not lost-she is not alone.

    Has that nurse escaped her very poor judgement? We all now know.

    You still are a disciple that God is wispering to. God Speed to you! Thank you.

  38. Dear Waiter,
    “Death and Life are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21.)

    Think now on how many, many people have whispered a prayer for Maria. Is she without friend or family in the larger view? She is not lost-she is not alone.

    Has that nurse escaped her very poor judgement? We all now know.

    You still are a disciple that God is whispering to. God Speed to you! Thank you.

  39. I used to be a hospice nurse, and every time I came off a shift I ran through a lot of these same thoughts. Only you articulated them better. Thanks.

  40. This is why I left the medical field
    too many times seeing the dying, scred and alone
    And either no one gave a damn orit was against hospital policy to do simple things.
    There was a woman on our ward. She attempted suicide. The sign on her records said ‘no verbal contact’
    We we never supposed to talk to her. You know how hard it is to trake care of someone and not talk to them?
    She commited suicide a week later

  41. Sad story . Maria is a precious child of God .

    The weirdly uncharitable,brusque doctors and nurses in this weird, chintzy decade should hang their heads in shame . There are good doctors and nurses out there, but the ones that are cold and businesslike and don’t want to be too bothered with questions and requests from the patient ought to be told off .

    Thank you for sharing this anecdote. May the memory of all Maria’s days be ever kept and never fade .

    Sincerely

  42. His ways are not our ways ~ Thank you for this. Glad to see you’re getting on with God better. I asked him, once why the injustus & inequities…? He reminded me He’s not the only one working here… He also reminded me that all things, eventually work together for the good of those that love Him. He’s bessed you with many talents, waiter-man… may you continue to grow and to magnify ~ love.

  43. Thanks for sharing this. It was heartbreakingly beautiful.

    Scripture says “I will never leave you or forsake you”, but it’s a deep down fear for so many of us, that we’ll be left alone, abandoneed by all, even God.

    Sobering thought, also the nerve you touched as to why some people go into ministry.

    Keep writing you have much to say!

  44. I’m an intern in the medical field, feeling all those emotions every single day when i come to the hospital. Most days i feel i can’t quite take it anymore. Seeing somebody i’ve cared for die,it just kills me..i feel absolutely useless. People constantly tell me that God has chosen me to do His work for Him here in this life. that just doesnt seem to cut it.
    I can totally relate to our “Waiter”…because i see wht he’s seen and feel wht he’s felt.
    God willing i’ll be able to help and do His work…and won’t run away.
    Don’t blame the nurse, don’t blame doctors… remember we have no right to judge…

  45. Very thought provoking……well done……..how many of these things go on everyday and nobody knows – worse – nobody cares.

  46. My husband sent me to this post and I’m really glad he did. Thank you for this.

    I’m hoping to start a clinical pastoral education program in the fall, so I need to hear stories like this.

    Also, the part where you recognized the seminarians despite them being off-duty made me smile. :-)

  47. There are times when you have to break rules in order to comfort people.

    I think you brought a lot of comfort to Maria and thanks to that, she’s no longer suffering.

    A lot of people these days tend to say “Why are all the good people suffering?” or “Why is there suffering in the world to begin with?”

    If people constantly ask these questions, then yeah, they would proclaim that God is an asshole. However, God Himself experienced pain and suffering (due to Jesus’ execution) and understands a lot more than we think He does.

    To some people, He can be an asshole. To me, He’s my Father. Even when I am in pain.

  48. Great story.

    What really rings through for me however is the irony that the only true comfort you got wasn’t from God, but from a considerate and understanding fellow human being.

    It makes you think that perhaps the truth is we all need each other more than we need any so-called supernatural being, to make us feel secure and comfortable in this world.

    If God is the vehicle which makes you more humane, more power to you, but the times when I most seriously contemplate the value of religion are exclusively when I run into specific people who are simply great human beings and claim some association with religion. The problem is they are a tiny minority, yet we still want to cling to many superstitious constructs as the reason for living.

    I think all you have to do is look around you, find others who are compassionate and understanding — you’ll find these people in every color, culture and philosophy. It has nothing at all to do with God ultimately. It’s about trying to be a good person.

  49. Some additional thoughts .

    Consider the prospect, that the injustices and tragedies have a different source than God allowing it to be so. Consider the possibility that God sometimes may delegate certain tasks of intervention to beings that we might call angels —for lack of a better word and that , perhaps, *some* though not all— of these angels may be lax at times at applying the necessary intervention . It is a possible soulution to the problem of pain.

    I don’t mean to turn this whole blog into a theology forum but I am also obligated to post that the person who goes by the screen name of Dorko—wrongly interprets the verse from Isaiah 55:8 that states , ‘Your ways are not my ways’ . It is downright disgusting to see that so many people misconstrue that verse AS IF it supports the *weird* doctrine popular in some religious circles that CLAIMS that God allows (or causes) tragedy for some inherently mysterious, inscrutable purpose! Such a doctrine that tries to portray God as having some weird, inscrutable purpose for allowing tragedies/allowing evil is a doctrine that is insulting to God. There is NO weirdness/NO dark side to God. The author of the epistle known as 1 John understood this insight when they wrote “This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light and in him is no darkness at all” (I John 1:5)

    The verse of Isaiah 55:8 where God [Yahweh] states that “Your ways are not my ways, your thoughts , not my thoughts”—does NOT mean that Isaiah is proclaiming that God has an inherently mysterious different kind of morality than human beings are familiar with/nor does it mean that he has a mysterious totally other kind of logic than the logic that humans are familiar with”. If one reads the verse and the verse that comes immediately before it one finds that it completes a sort of contrast between the un-charitable ways that man often engages in and the way of God which is infinitely more generous. Isaiah 55:7 the verse right before states, “let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him:and to our God for he will abundantly pardon.”(KJV) What the verse in Isaiah 55;8 along with the previous verse do is show the contrast between God who shows mercy and hence is willing to forgive and the way that humans often tend to be which—is often to carry a grudge and not be as disposed as God is to show mercy/to forgive. The verse that states , “your ways are not my ways/your thoughts are not my thoughts does NOT support the totally weird doctrine thjat claims that God allows tragedies and/or evil for some inherently mysterious purrpose!

    In Isaiah 55;9 the statement appears, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts higher than your thoughts”. This indicates NOT that God has a mysterious other morality nor a mysterious other logic than humans are familiar with , INSTEAD, it indicates that God unlike humans is infinitely more steadfast in maintaining the same morality and logic that humans are familiar with . Human beings waver and are often NOT always steadfast at upholding moral and logical precepts . God —who is infinitely perfect–is never wavering and always steadfast in upholding the precepts of morality and logic that humans are fasmiliar with yet do NOT always uphold in a committed manner.

    Claiming that God allows tragedies for some inherently mysterious purpose was one of the mistaken, weird notions that Job’s friends made in the book of Job. Though some have weirdly mis-interpreted the dialogues between Job and God in the book of Job as somehow being in support of the weird doctrine that CLAIMS God allows (or causes) tragedies to happeen to people for some inherently mysterious purpose, NOwhere did God during his dialogue with Job—in the book—of Job, explicitly say this was the case in the dialogue with Job.

    One other matter to consider is that there may be multiple futures to God and God may hope that a better future may be manifested then the one which sometimes does come to pass. This notion in NO way diminishes the omniscience of God .

    Another thought I must mention is that though I gather than mentioning the race of the nurse that was so uncharitable towards Maria was probably an incidental or accidental description—and *not* racist —nonetheless, the mention of her race could play into the agenda of *some readers* who might come along and have a racist inclination. That nurse who denied Maria some ice to quench thirst was a weird,chintzy creep REGARDLESS of what color she was. We should though hope and pray that that nurse as crass as she was—will be given mercy if she is ever in need . We should still of course wish her mercy too. With all that mentioned it is a blessing that someone like you padre tried to help Maria . In a weird, vulgar era like this present era of history (an era overrun with yuppies and people who use weird expressions such as ,”that’s not my problem” —we’ve got to do all we can to turn the tide!

  50. Wow –

    That was an amazing post. It brought back memories to when I was a chaplain intern working in a regional trauma hospital.

    Now that I’m working as a pastor, I’ve discovered that the same stuff in me I was facing then comes out even now… and that God’s still hammering on it.

    Pax vobiscum:

    ::Matt

  51. Thank you for the wonderful insight into the internal conflicts for those in ministry. As a pastor, who is young and inexperienced, I nod in agreement with the many struggles that occur.

  52. I am an ordained minister and serve as a hospital chaplain.

    This post is perfect…and you just may have some ministry in you…serving people at a restaurant, giving peace to the priestly…who need pastoring as much ans anoyone does…this is a great thing. Thanks for sharing this.

  53. Very moving. I would do well to emulate your compassion for Maria. Thank you for sharing this with us, with such openness and brutal honesty.

    Jason L., consider the possibility that every lamentable thing which happened in this account – the suffering of Maria, the death of her baby, the indifference of the nurse – is a direct result of human beings disobeying God. The problem of pain doesn’t rest on the shoulders of some errant angel or God juggling multiple futures; pain comes because humans sin. We don’t listen to God, the author of the Universe; we do what we please, and then we curse Him when we reap the results of our own actions. I’m not saying this to glory in Maria’s suffering, to engage in any kind of schadenfreude, or to say that I am deserving of anything better. I wouldn’t wish that suffering upon anyone. But we must, every one of us, face up to our deeds.

    As you pointed out in the passage from Isaiah, it’s not that God is operating according to different rules than we are, but that He is constant in His goodness, while we have seperated ourselves from God by our “wicked ways.” The entirety of the Bible is a record of God’s unfathomably deep love for us, detailing the lengths He’s willing to go for our sake, while we repeatedly push Him away.

    In contrast to what Pile said before you – and what people say when they ask “Why do bad things happen to good people?” – I assert that we need to consider the uncomfortable possibility that we may not be good people. That no one is good. That though people may appear “good” to us, this opinion is based on our own human perceptions, which change and are shaped by our likes and desires; we humans are not the rule by which goodness is ultimately defined. This is certainly the theology that Paul outlines in his letter to the Romans, a theology that is consistent through the entirety of the Bible. It is the only theology that makes any sense or purpose of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection – it was the whole purpose of it.

    At this point, could we agree that theology is about more than angels dancing on the heads of pins? I would go so far as to argue that it’s absolutely important. It’s the study of God’s very nature, His personality and attributes that He has revealed to us. When Jesus summed up the Law and the Prophets in two commandments, the first was “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and all of your mind. (Matt. 22:37, emphasis mine)”

    As for why our pain is sometimes extended, why we don’t receive relief immediately upon repentance… In my own experiences I have found that times of trial are always for my benefit, my growth, and my maturity, even though I have seldom experienced what would conventionally be called “happiness” in those situations. Since when has happiness been the end cause of God in our lives? Happiness comes and goes, inconstant as our sense of contentment. I think we tread dangerous ground when we think that our happiness is all that life is about. But this life is not all that there is to our existence. Quite the contrary: Jesus assures us that it’s only the beginning. That is where joy comes in, which can lead to happiness but is far more potent a thing, because it’s based in the hope that Jesus has given us. I don’t know the specific reasons why Maria suffered for as long as she did; only God knows that. But I can trust that God is good, and that His purposes are good, even if I don’t currently understand it from my current temporal, corporeal, flawed vantage point.

  54. Man’s thinking is the “asshole”, not God. God did not drag you there and put you through all that for nothing”. You were there for many reasons. One is, you were there as a consequence of your choice. Another is, for your personal maturity. There are so many painful truths in the most devastating places, what you can do is make it better in as gracious manner as possible. If you cannot, get out because someone else can do the job better.

  55. I deal with death every day in life but that is because i work with the elderly. i could not watch a young woman or man die. God Bless You for your courage.

  56. WOW!

    This story reminded me of so many moments in my own supervised ministries before I left Catholic priestly formation.

    Sometimes, I forget what it was really all about. Thanks for reminding me.

    Peace!

  57. With 212 well-deserved comments, I hardly think you’ll be reading more, but that is a stunning piece of writing. Thank you for sharing that gift.

  58. Thank you for posting this story. I have had to wipe away tears in order to comment.

    And I would not do so, except I was a nurse and thus can contribute a thought that may not have occurred to some people.

    I do not say this is what happened in this case, but I have seen it happen: a nurse starts a shift with a heart full of compassion only to find that a doctor has ordered no fluids for a patient who begs for water, or no pain medication for a person who needs it desperately, or a resuscitation order for a patient who has been trying to die for days.
    The nurse may agree with each of these decisions, or at the very least understand them, BUT the nurse, unlike the doctor is supposed to be there at that bedside saying firmly, no water, no medicine, and we won’t let you die… So it happens that sometimes a really good nurse just can’t go on being there at that bedside… The lucky patients in this condition die because they ARE alone. Apparently they did code this poor woman, remember, and that nurse probably knew they were going to do it even though THAT was genuine cruelty…

  59. I really enjoyed that story – even though I am a life long Atheist. Whew…. I have seen a great deal of suffering and death and well, I lost my innocence long ago. Sigh, I too once worked in a hospital and I too have seen many to suffer (needlessly) and die alone. And I know this doesn’t seem logical… but I have a wife and kids, yet somehow I know in my heart that I will die alone. I have always known this…as far back as I can remember. It is a fear, a sadness and aloneliness that I have carried with me for all of my life. My gut tells me this is what will happen AND my gut has NEVER been wrong.

    -Super Stevens

  60. You were quitting seminary about the time I got sober. I didn’t hit seminary until I was 46. I was told that I couldn’t continue – because of the financial debts I carry from my past – in April, 2004. I didn’t quit – I was told I never should have come.

    I raged against that – and against God’s will for me – for 15 months.

    Your post – and your testimony – give me hope that there will be peace, and resolution, some time in the future. Right now, I’m getting ready to move out of seminary housing, and try to start my life over again.

    Thank God for this post, brother.

  61. vielen dank für diesen persönlichen und unglaublichen eintrag. man merkt, was du fühltest! auch ich gab es auf ein priester zu werden. aber eine richtige erklärung fand ich nie. allerdings las ich sie gerade zwischen deinen zeilen! danke dafür! gott segne dich und ich hoffe, du bleibst deiner berufung als priester treu, ohne dass du einer geworden bist!

  62. I am a newcomer to your blog, but have been reading it incessantly since I found it a few days ago. This post was very moving; I nearly cried.

  63. The way your write really is beautiful. You have a wonderful talent. The way you tell parts of your life. I think it is wonderful that you share your thoughts and feels and dad to day life with us. I think it is wonderful you share your talent. :)

  64. Like Chanel, I’m new to your blog but can’t stop reading. This post is beautiful and was surprisingly succinct for me on this day.

    Thank you.

  65. Beautiful, your most beautiful post yet, I’ve been reading them from most recent to the beginning, & your writing here sent a chill down my back. Your experiences have shaped you into the man you are now with the dignity & understanding you now possess & pass on in your writing. Thank you.

  66. i hope you actually get this. please excuse my writing i know it is horrible. You have been on tv and recieved some reward, but i am so disappointed that i have recently discovered your blog. Sir you are an incredible individual. i have only read about six months of your blog and i am just so happy that you have become successful. it renews my faith that a good deed is always rewarded. again congratulations and enjoy it you deserve it. reese evans

  67. Wow. I can’t stop crying, that was absolutely beautiful. Thank you so much for your honesty and profound observations throughout this blog. That is a story that will stick with me for a long, long time.

    I just found your blog and am totally amazed by your balance of hilarious sarcasm and sweet, incredibly moving posts like this one. Excellent.

  68. Waiter,

    This makes the 3rd time tonight one of your blogs has brought me to tears, and although it is not a bad thing, I happen to be at work and my answering the phone choked up with unshed tears is a bit disconcerting for the caller. :) Maybe I should stop reading, but I can’t. I truly enjoy reading your posts and actually dread reaching the end of your archives. You have lived many lives in your time here on this earth, and you have gained much wisdom. Keep writing, Waiter, and I will definitely keep reading (with tissues on hand, of course)! God Bless you.

  69. I tend not to post comments as I am rarely as eloquent as the author. But I just felt that I should say that this peace touched my heart and that like all things that should be repeatedly savored, I have placed a copy in a safe place.

  70. Hell man, you just made the most down-to-earth atheist cry and smile at the same time. I wish I was half the writer you are.

    thank you

  71. I found your site recently and mainly enjoyed the cynicism and making fun of righteous customers, since I too am in the business…But as I have gone back and read your archives thoroughly, I have been touched by so many stories, such as this one. I have never had a blog make me cry :)

    Your story gave Maria’s lonely life a purpose..To show all of us how tenuous, fragile and beautiful life can be. No matter how bad the decisions Maria made in her life, and no matter how alone she died makes no difference when your story gives her existence such value and importance. Maria (and you) made me weep reading this…You both gave me an excellent life lesson today…And I certainly needed one of those after a long bartending shift. Such days can make me bitter and small minded. Your story — and Maria’s — made me realoize how trivial my everyday problems are. Thank you for opening my eyes.

  72. oh my God…

    the story…

    the non conservative view on God…

    the writing…

    the turn of phase…

    the narration…

    need i say more…

    oh my God…

  73. I imagine Maria is smiling right now, because her story was finally told. She died knowing someone was showing her kindness and caring, and that’s the death some of us could only wish for. You’re a good person. God bless.

  74. Waiter. Old post I know. Probably you won’t see this comment as I know things have changed greatly for you since. I’m a server – yes I prefer that term. In Toronto Canada. I love the industry, the food and wine, hospitality. I just started reading your blog from the beginning ( January is slow) and there have been a few really touching posts – the breast feeding vulnerable woman and the very young man on a date come to mind. I also love the crazy guest and serving intracacy humour. This is the first to make me actually cry, not just tear up. I do sometimes feel… Conflicted about the bitterness of servers, but I understand it also. Anyway, just wanted to say you inspire and teach me. Thank you

  75. I recently lost my mother to cancer. The last moments of her life haunt my sleeping hours every night. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this, having grown up Catholic myself. I am struggling with my faith a little these days, and this was a very good read. Thank you. I’ll continue to read your old entries at 3am when I can’t find sleep :)

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