Maybe Children’s Hospitals aren’t “one of the most depressing places in the world” after all…
I always used to contend that children’s hospitals are one of the most depressing places in the world. They’re teeming with sick and suffering children, surrounded by anxious and distraught parents, all tended to by often underpaid and overworked staff, and set within an impersonal and uncaring system. It’s not a hard argument to make.
Yet our subjective view of “reality” is such that we can often forget it’s just a “view” or a “way of looking at things”. The experience of life can often be less about the reality of what happens and more about the internal states which interpret, process, and make meaning of that reality. With this in mind, as we began our time in the children’s hospital here in Murcia, I spontaneously saw something different – something that was always there, but I just failed to see it.
As we waited in the corridor for my daughter’s operation to finish, we were surrounded with other parents, family members, and friends also waiting for their child’s operation to finish. We were all bound by a common care, love ,and concern for our children’s wellbeing. Then it struck me; there’s another way to see children’s hospitals. An alternative to viewing them as “one of the most depressing places in the world” is to see them as concentrated pockets of immense love, care, and kindness.
Families pacing, doting, and surrounding their child with love and concern. Doctors, nurses, and other staff working tirelessly to alleviate and facilitate the healing of unwell children. If there’s one place you see unguarded love and care, it’s in the faces of all the families bustling through the corridors of a children’s hospital. They’re buildings filled with evidence of humanity’s ability to love. Love is expressed in joy and relief. Love is revealed in unfathomable grief and sorrow. Love that is grounded in vocation and dedication.
Being willing to see children’s hospitals as hives of human love didn’t take away any of my daughter’s pain or reduce any of our palpable anguish. Yet, instead of grumbling and moaning in my mind, it permitted me to bear witness to and appreciate the beauty of the love I saw all around me. It helped to give me faith in my fellow humans and let me marvel at how we’re truly built to love. We may not get it right, we may forget that truth, and we may get lost along the way, but it’s always there – love’s splendour and life’s ways bring us back to that.
As there are many things in the world worthy of our condemnation and cynicism, it’s critical to find the counterweights to those realities wherever and however we can – for me, at least. Framing my future visits to the children’s hospital as reminders of love’s immense tenacity and magnificence is so much easier and more affirming than, “another 11am appointment at one of the most depressing places in the world”.
This love we have in our hearts is the only real thing of value. It’s the only experience that really matters and gives life any lasting meaning. We see this all the time; stories where people somehow have minutes left to live and all they can think of doing is calling those they love to tell them how much they love them.
So, it behoves us to find it, feel it, act from it, acknowledge it, and celebrate it as the source of all of meaning and purpose. For me, it took my time at a children’s hospital to see this – for others it may be somewhere else. But, if we look for it, it’s always there. This love isn’t the goal of life; it’s the cause and it’s the fountainhead that everything else arises from. As the 14th century mystic Dame Julian of Norwich asked in a vision to God, “what our Lord’s meaning was,” she was told: “Know it well, love was his meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did he show you? Love. Why did he show it? For love.”