I have had surgery three times in my life. In my first two experiences, I was a reluctant child and the anesthesia had already sent me to sleep prior to entering the operating room.
In my most recent experience I was taken into the surgery fully awake, wholly reassured and comforted by the caring nurses. I looked around in awe at this inner sanctum of medical toys as the efficient nurses attended to the tasks of preparation.
As if taken by the hand, I was gently led to sleep, scarcely knowing if I wished to stay in awe of the objects of this unknown world or go into the darkness.
Darkness came quickly and without awareness. I surrendered, the mystery of trust mingling with sleep.
Then, suddenly, I was in an unexpected place, a familiar but long ago place. Chattering voices and gentle laughs formed the image of children standing in front of an ice cream truck, eagerly trying to place an order for their own frosty delight.
Groggy. Confused. I heard a warm voice proclaiming, “You did so well.”
I raised my hand and garbled, “At what?”
The woman with the welcoming voice gently took my hand and leaned down to give me a tender hug.
I blubbered: “Are you an angel?”
She laughed and continued to caress my hand. Slowly, I began to see, to understand, to remember. I started to smile, then to laugh and feel giddy. A deep gratitude filled my soul!
Even in this now commonplace experience, awakening from anesthesia, I imagined I had experienced the miracle of grace that holds the mysterious promise of a time beyond my final sleep.
When our toys of life are taken away and we face the eternal sleep we are entering a realm that Longfellow once tried to describe as a powerful and progressive matter of “Nature.” With a glimpse of that journey in the surgery—gratitude shivers my aching bones.
Awakening is a grace-filled miracle.
_ By HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW _
As a fond mother, when the day is o’er,
Leads by the hand her little child to bed,
Half willing, half reluctant to be led,
And leave his broken playthings on the floor,
Still gazing at them through the open door,
Nor wholly reassured and comforted
By promises of others in their stead,
Which, though more splendid, may not please him more;
So Nature deals with us, and takes away
Our playthings one by one, and by the hand
Leads us to rest so gently, that we go
Scarce knowing if we wish to go or stay,
Being too full of sleep to understand
How far the unknown transcends the what we know.
(Above picture: DETAIL from “Jacob’s Dream,” a painting by 17th-Century Spanish painter JoseÌ de Ribera.)