The world is a series of microcosms, the borders of which define the reach and impact of our suffering. Life goes on outside, but this does not negate the reality or profundity of that for which we mourn.
A little girl died on the ward on Monday. When she came to us, we thought we might be able to help her. She had a tumor in her mouth, one that was large enough that it was on its way to suffocating her if it wasn’t taken out. She was two years old – tiny, scared, and adorable.
The tumor grew visibly while she was in our care. The medical team determined that it was inoperable.
The attending surgeon said she would die on the table if they operated, so they prepared to send her home to be with her family. In the end she was too sick to fly, and so she stayed with us in the hospital. I only got to interact with her a couple of times, but those interactions have stayed with me. Those big eyes, attentive and quick. They’re burned into my memory.
Monday morning we had planned to visit another patient, one who was staying in the bed next to hers. Monday morning, things were going crazy in the hospital. When I found out who they were going crazy over, I knew what was happening. And then she was gone.
There’s nothing you can do, sometimes. There’s no way you can save everyone. It seems like the beginning of this field service serves few purposes better than to remind us of that fact. And yet, there is always hope.
That quote with which I opened was a tweet I wrote that was far too long, but far too compact already to shorten further. As I sat watching the visiting media team film an interview four decks above the scene below, I thought about how little the world cared that this precious girl had passed away. So few knew, even among my crewmates. I spent that day with information that was not to be shared, and it drove home some harsh realities about life.
Our world is built upon overlapping social circles. Some of these circles are extremely small, consisting of only a few people, while others involve millions. These are defined by our reach, the number of people who not only know we exist but whose lives are impacted by our very existence.
When Michael Jackson died, the world mourned. Thousands of babies were named Michael that week. When this little girl died, I ate lunch with people who had no clue what had happened within the confines of their own home. Most would never have a concept of who she was beyond what blog posts like this would offer.
Her suffering was real. Her mother’s suffering was real. Just because we continued on with our lives, because the cameras rolled on deck seven and the engines rumbled on deck one, none of this negated the profundity of that suffering. None of that negated its depth.
To be sure, this little girl was surrounded by better care than she could have ever hoped for when she left this world. There were dozens more people who cared, whose hearts broke, and whose lives will never be quite the same. I may not have known her well, but in a strange way I loved her. I think we all did. And that, I believe, is a deeper privilege than I deserve to share.
I haven’t had time to mourn her properly yet, but she deserves that much from me.
Should you be feeling alone tonight, should you feel insignificant in the face of innumerable humanity, recognize that you are not insignificant. Your pain is real, as small as it may feel. Your loneliness, your grief, your loss, it’s all very real and very profound.
There may not be millions to share your burden. You may not have a proverbial hospital ship roll in to provide you support. But know that we’re only a manifestation of a greater reality. There is a God who loves you, and who shares in what you’re feeling. He may not stop the pain, in fact you may very well die from it, but He will be with you every step of the way.