Wrestling with Angels on Good Friday

I just read this article

about a surgeon in training

losing a patient

and I thought of you.

It may seem like an odd thing to send

on Good Friday

to someone aspiring to work in medicine

still very excited about learning all the things about healing

that knowledge and training and skill

make possible.


I was such a person once.

And that excitement I had

as a pre-med student is still with me, although

my pursuits ended up leading me into a different profession.


I spent the day yesterday with a member of the congregation

who is dying of AIDS related causes.

He’s a wonderful young man, younger than me.  We talked

a number of times over the last couple years

his struggle with feeling rejected by people

how it challenged his need to be accepted and loved

and how he worked so hard to keep from getting lost

and allowing feelings of hurt and resentment to close his too-tender heart.


It’s not the first time I’ve visited people who I knew were going to die.

It happens more often than I’d like

(certainly more often than the people I visit would like).

And yet, it is far and away

the most powerful and rewarding part of my job

and the thing I am most grateful

I get to do

because I walk away

each time seeing new things about loss

and not lose sight

that I am larger

and more powerful

than my fear would have me believe.


What I learned when I was considering a career in medicine

Was that part of the pursuit

involved wrestling with angels

that promised impossible things

like the fantasy that becoming a doctor

somehow grant us

more control over life – and death – then we can really manage

or even have a right to


You have the kind of heart

I hope the surgeon or the pastor or the cafeteria lady has

when, years from now, they appear

by my hospital bed and do with me

what they trained to do.


Whatever it is that you end up choosing

to use your life learning

(I hope you end up considering a wide variety of things)

you will see the signs

asking you to STOP


or MERGE as fear crosses

and you will consider


or shrinking back

from the things you were truly meant to do.


This work of keeping my heart open

in the face of struggle and loss

has been hard,

and it never seems to end.  But



it is joyful,

and privileged work

each and every awe-ful time I feel called

to the bedside doing

what I trained my whole life to do

which is good, because

when things are that hard and

the control we’d like is so carefully rationed,

we need all the angels we can get.

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