THE CHAPLAIN Series
The Man in Black
“They brought him in, in pieces – and he was still alive! Why didn’t he bleed to death at the scene of the accident,” Chaplain Lydia Jackson was shaking as she mentally reported what she was seeing to her spiritual companion, a sense of divine Presence that had looked after her since childhood.
This one is not going to be easy, Lydia. Take a deep breath, came the Voice in return.
There before her in the emergency room was an assemblage of concerned humanity – police officers, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), nurses, doctors, ambulance drivers, and another chaplain who had been in the house already and had arrived at the ER before Lydia. The patient’s family was to arrive shortly.
Lydia was a chaplain in a large, urban hospital. She had been on-call this night and had answered her pager’s beep, but this time, she wasn’t needed.
“I can cover this one,” her colleague offered. “I’m here anyway. Go home.”
Lydia wanted to leave, but she was transfixed. The patient was a man dressed in black leather. A nurse was slitting that leather with scissors so she could reach the patient’s body as quickly as possible without jostling too many bones. Another was holding an oxygen mask over the patient’s face. Blood was splattered on the gurney and across the floor. Lines were being inserted in the man’s veins.
An EMT came running in with a black leather boot – with the bones of a left leg protruding from the opening in the top. Lydia instinctively looked at the patient on the table. Yes, one leg was noticeably shorter than the other – and that boot, along with the body part contained therein, belonged to the man dressed in black.
The colleague was talking with the patient’s friends. She couldn’t tell whether family members had yet arrived. Regardless, she was not needed this night. Tired and shaken, she headed for her car. Maybe she should call her adult son? But it was much too late at night. Just to check on him?
No, Lydia, don’t do that. I’m here. Your son is fine. Let’s go home.
Lydia Jackson was a wife and the mother of five children, as well as a chaplain. At the close of one work shift, the work of her true calling began.
She had already left the hospital once today, earlier in the evening after a full eight hours of patient visits. She had driven the fifteen to twenty minutes home, pulled into her garage, and had sat for a moment listening to the garage door descend. She needed just a few moments to make the transition between her two worlds. Images of patients flashed through her brain.
“I hope the young man who was hearing voices is better tonight,” she whispered. “And do look after that poor girl whose husband died.”
Leave them with me, came the Voice.
“I need to just think of nothing for a few minutes.”
Lydia smiled, and breathed deeply. After a moment, she exhaled.
Let’s go meet the family.
Leaving the quiet of the garage, Lydia walked through the door of her home, immediately overwhelmed by a litter of overgrown puppies – all yapping, wrestling, and pulling on each other’s ears -- demanding to be played with, or taken for a walk. No matter how neat and organized Lydia may have left her home in the morning, by evening, she noticed, the puppies had it torn apart.
“I should be a more demanding mother,” she thought to herself. But the “puppies” loved her, and she loved them and she didn’t much want to change things.
“God, they are neat kids,” Lydia told the Presence, “but will they ever grow up? Maybe when they do, I can find homes for them.”
They are your true life’s work, Lydia. Enjoy them while they are here, the Presence whispered. The Voice often had something to offer which either saved her from doing something stupid, or comforted her, if she already had.
“Mah-ma, did you forget we were going to take Katarina out to the theater parking lot to practice driving?” her youngest daughter called out. “The driver’s test is Thursday. She needs practice.”
“Sorry, Kat, we’ll get some time in tomorrow,” Lydia said, as she turned to the household’s German exchange student. “Just study the book. The road test will be easy.”
‘You’ve got to drive me downtown, too,” her daughter continued, “for my audition for King Lear. Isn’t that neat?”
‘I need you to proofread my Romanov paper,” her older daughter broke in. “It’s fifteen pages now. You said you had another book on the Russian royal family. Where is it?”
“Jack called. He is being deployed to Bosnia.”
“Dad called. He won’t be home ‘til Saturday.”
“Sharon called. She may come visit for Christmas.”
“Jake called, too. The lizard’s sick.”
The family was a blended one -- “his, mine, ours, and theirs”. Lydia’s husband had two surviving children from a previous marriage, one in the Air Force and the other living in California. Jake was her son. And she and her husband were the parents of the two teenaged daughters. “Theirs” was the German exchange student.
Jake had grown up, married, and adopted a monitor lizard. Apparently the lizard wasn’t feeling well this evening. Jake’s second passion was his Yamaha motorcycle.
The two girls and the foreign exchange student pretty much monopolized action at the house. Their antics attracted other “puppies” from other families – and the place was full of activity.
A bit of food on the table, a review of each child’s needs and activities, and Lydia was ready for a much-deserved nap. Her beeper and nametag on the nightstand beside her, the chaplain settled down for her nightly chat with the Presence.
“I wonder if I’ll ever hear from the man who called this morning about Satan being on his back,” she began.
No, probably not, the Voice answered.
“I wonder how the family is doing whose mother died today? The girl whose child was taken? Oh, and the girl whose husband shot himself,” she moaned. “I’ll never know what happens to them either, will I?”
No, Lydia. In most instances you were just meant to be there for a moment. A critical moment, but just a moment.
“And the lizard. Will the lizard be okay?”
Yes, the lizard was just suffering from a bit of indigestion. He’ll be fine.
Lydia drifted off to sleep.
Sleep deep, Lydia. It will be a short nap.
And here she was two hours later, standing in this Emergency Room watching the turmoil, wondering if some miracle might allow the surgeons to re-attach this man’s leg, and thinking of her own son, the man who loved motorcycles.
“This is my baby. Nobody knows just how wonderful he is except me,” the chaplain remembering telling herself twenty-five years earlier. She had been lying on her bed, holding her son high up over her body, his feet a’ kicking and body a’ giggling. An awe-struck mother of a newborn child.
The child was 25-years-old now, and she had been right. No one appreciated her red-neck, truck-driving, loud-mouthed son like she did.
“Hi,” he said when he first met her colleagues at the hospital, “I’m Jake, the black-sheep of the family.” Then he’d laugh, and grin that silly grin.
Jake was a sandy-haired, lanky man who favored his father’s mountain-Irish side of the family – a squirrel hunter type with coonskin cap who crashed landed in the 21st century quite by accident.
It wasn’t a coonskin cap these days, but rather a black bandana wrapped around his head and tied in the back. Her boy looked pretty cool in his black kerchief, black leather jacket and leather breeches – riding his black Yamaha.
She had bought the kid his first bike when he was ten. He wasn’t interested in a bicycle, wanted a motorbike – and that’s what his over-indulgent mother had gotten him.
Lydia loved her son and was proud of him. He worked hard. He played hard. He loved hard. He also gave his mother much cause for worry. People thought they knew this man, but Lydia still believed that she was the only one who really did.
“Keep him safe,” she had prayed time and again. And the next morning when she awoke, he would be home.
“Thank you,” she’d pray.
You are welcome, she would hear, He’s a good man, Lydia.
The chaplain watched the scene in the emergency room for a little while longer. It was calmer now. Everyone had a plan and the injured man was in good hands. It was time to go.
The chaplain approached her car in the hospital parking lot. It had been a long day and a tiring evening, and she had unnecessarily responded to a call when there was already a chaplain on the premises. There was really no way the switchboard operator could have known, she decided, but she was still shaken, even confused by the events of the past half hour.
“You’ve always protected Jake,” she whispered, “Why not this man?”
No response came.
Lydia unlocked the car door and scooted into her vehicle. As the door closed beside her, she laid her head on the steering wheel -- and sobbed. The Man in Black, now in surgery, was not Jake. He was not her son. But he was somebody’s son -- it was for this woman, whom Lydia cried.