Take a walk in your city
Skim your fingers on the concrete
The bricks, the stones, the wooden rails
As you pass by
On your fingertips
An amalgamation of soots and ashes
Dust from our coloured skins
Precipitated from the air we breathe together
At home you will wash the grime from your hands
Scrub until the flesh is clean, bright, and your own
It will stay like that only until the next time
Even if you only skim the surface
It cannot be helped, and it needn’t be.
I’ve decided that I am not myself on night shift. I am an alter ego named “Nurse Ferris.” Nurse Ferris is pretty much me except more sleep deprived and curmudgeony.
Nursing Assistant: “What did you bring to eat tonight?”
Nurse Ferris: “Oh, some sandwiches, a banana… some kind of cake.”
Overly Interested Nursing Assistant: “What kind of cake?”
Nurse Ferris: “I don’t know, some kind of cake.”
Food-Preoccupied Nursing Assistant: “But what kind of cake?”
Nurse Ferris: “Some NOT YOURS kind of cake! Jeez.”
Nurse Ferris: “I want to die of a ruptured aortic aneurysm.”
Naive Nurse Sarah: “But before it ruptures you’re just sitting around waiting to die!”
Nurse Ferris: “Sarah. We are all sitting around waiting to die.”
Margie said I should share some examples of grumpy things I’ve said to her while on night shift. But then we realized that I don’t say funny grumpy things to her when I’m sleep-confused and miserable. I’m just kind of mean and bitchy.
I’m working on that.
There’s an exercise I created for my senior thesis in nursing school. I put up a picture of a hospital patient in an intensive care unit. Clustered around the bed are the legions of medical equipment and devices used to sustain life at its most fragile moments: ventilator, cardiac monitor, IV pump, oxygen, defibrillator. A nurse is hanging an IV medication – stethoscope around her neck and a plethora of medical supplies in her many pocketed scrubs.
“What is the most important tool in this picture?” I ask. The audience’s answers vary, but eventually someone gets the one I’m shooting for, which is “the nurse.”
My mother has a little trouble with the fact that I get into cage-matches every once in a while. I’ve been training in Muay Thai for a couple years now and last night I wrote her a long email after a tough sparring session trying to capture why I love it so much. What it comes down to is this: You bring nothing into the cage but yourself – what you have made yourself capable of, what you can force your body do, the depths of fatigue, pain, and fear that your mind and your spirit have the power to overcome. The other man in the cage is not your opponent. He is your teacher and he is testing you to see, quite literally, what you are made of.
Ten months ago I became a father. It’s a wonderful adventure and it also brings up a mess of previously unknown anxieties and responsibilities. Am I making healthy choices for my daughter? Am I raising her right? Am I providing enough for my family – now and for the future? How do I balance time with her against other responsibilities? Am I pulling my weight alongside my wife in terms of child care.
At the end of the day, however, I know that none of these questions are Jubilee’s questions. My daughter wants just one thing from me. She wants me to be her Daddy; one simple thing that I will spend the rest of my life being and becoming. The world is full of fully grown adults who still mourn their fathers’ relational absence, regardless of what their father may have achieved or done for them. But a father who loves and thoughtfully cares for his children can and will be forgiven many failings and shortcomings.
I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out what it means to follow Jesus. I’m still trying to figure that out, and much of it seems to be discovering all the things that I have backwards. I wasted a lot of time thinking that God wanted me to become someone else before I found out that he wants me to become myself. And lately I’m learning that even this is only part of it. We are indeed meant to become ourselves, but it is not for ourselves. We are here to be ourselves for our neighbours and for our maker.
Not to do, to act, or even to dream, but to be.