How Many Holy Moments

Posted by Richard Whittaker on May 21, 2019
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[Here's one of the stunning stories shared by Rachel Naomi Remen in a recent circle.]

This story is about a guy who runs a large emergency room in San Francisco. Emergency room doctors are not soft and mushy. :) Whether male or female, it requires a great degree of toughness.

It was a very busy night in the emergency room. It was so busy that they got him out of his office to go down and actually get in the trenches and help. He wasn't there for a couple of hours and they got a call from an ambulance coming in. They were bringing a woman in active labor -- very active labor -- in. They were concerned that the baby was actually going to be born in the ambulance as they were transporting her. They wanted the team to know that this was coming.

So he went out to the ambulance bay, to meet the ambulance, and he brought two nurses with him. They had the packs for the delivery, in case they were needed. The ambulance arrives and they bring up the gurney with this woman on it. And he gets her to come down to the end of the gurney, does an examination, and yes, this baby is just about ready to be born.

He says to her, "You know, I've delivered probably about 300-400 babies in the time I've worked as an emergency room doctor. Your doctor's on the way, but if he doesn't make it before the baby comes, I'll deliver you. So you're here. It's going to be alright."

He barely finished talking and the baby's head began crowning. The nurses stood up (they're so heroic!) on either side of him. One had one leg of the woman on her shoulder. The other had the other leg. And he's standing there, and he delivers a little baby girl. Right in the ambulance bay. And it's perfect -- it's a perfect delivery. There's no chord around the neck. She's breathing spontaneously. He puts her on the back of his arm like he's been taught. He puts the back of her head here, and he lowers her below the placenta to get the most of the nourishment before he cuts the chord, and as he's doing this, the baby opens her eyes and looks deeply into his eyes.

In that moment, he sees that there's a look of what appears to be wonder on her face. And suddenly he's able to step past his usual way of seeing things -- because he'd been congratulating himself on what he calls his 'drop-dead skills' to be able to deliver under these terrible circumstances -- and he suddenly realizes, as she opens her eyes, that he's the first human being that this little girl has ever seen.

He feels his heart go out to her in welcome, from the whole human race.

A lot of his ways of seeing things just sort of fell off -- his cynicism, his irritation, his sense of what he was doing, even, fell away.

For a moment, tears filled his eyes.

He was stunned by the tears.

But it didn't make him incompetent. He continued... He cut and clamped the chord, put her on the mother's belly and turned her over to the pediatric resident, as usual.

But he told us that he felt totally changed by this experience.

He said, ordinarily, he would have been there as a doctor, but not as a fellow human being. He'd be there as a technician. He might not have even noticed the baby open its eyes, or what it meant when she looked deeply into his eyes.

There was a feeling that had come over him. And he didn't recognize what the feeling meant for two days. But he finally got it, what this feeling was. The feeling was one of gratitude -- for being the one who got to stand on the threshold of this world and welcome her.

He said he wonders how many other moments of inspiration and meaning he's missed in the emergency room. He says he's missed them all.

He thinks of that moment, when the baby opened her eyes, as a holy moment. And he began to wonder: How many other holy moments are there in this work? And what does it take to be able to look at them?

As he was telling us this story, he said, "They're everywhere. Everywhere. There are holy moments everywhere in this world. Being a physician is a work which has a meaning that goes way back in time, but we call is by another name. We call it lineage. It's a lineage of service to life. And we are doing this with our eyes closed. I have a front-row seat on life! So do you.

Don't sit there with your eyes closed."

It's not the amount of time something takes -- although that is a factor -- but it's about being able to experience a moment of that kind of time, right in the middle of the fray.

Posted by Richard Whittaker | | permalink

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Comments (12)

  • Mia Tagano wrote ...

    Wow. Beautiful and Powerful both - thank you dear Richard for sharing.

  • Victor Kannan wrote ...

    Thank you Richard for sharing. Now I am ready to go to work and embrace the day! I have to wipe my tears off to see clearly as I drive to work!!

  • Sally Mahe wrote ...

    Thank you Richard for this story and insight. With context of country and world as it is, this encouragement to look for and feel with gratitude the holy moments that are all around us zis balm for our psyches.

  • Smita Navare wrote ...

    I happened to be 'present' when Rachel shared this and Richard shares it so beautifully all who read it will feel their presence and connect.

  • Anne Veh wrote ...

    Very true, Smita! Thank you Richard

  • Shyam Gupta wrote ...

    Thank you. Brings one to tears. Finding meaning and purpose in the ,seemingly dull and tough, everyday life.

  • Suchitra Shenoy wrote ...


  • Micky O'Toole wrote ...

    This story blessed me today. Thank you, Richard. ♥.

  • Ashima Goyal wrote ...

    Like Micky said, this story blessed me today!

  • Elizabeth wrote ...

    "Don't sit there with your eyes closed"...loved that phrase. Indeed there are miracles everywhere...Out busy minds/ Large Ego can obscure these moments. Thank you for this beautiful reflection.

  • Ruchi wrote ...

    This is so beautiful. I've had many such moments myself, but often miss them in my own rush of going about the day, this is such a beautiful reminder! :)

  • Shyam wrote ...

    Wow. Such a powerful moment.
    I did get to experience one such moment when we had gone to meet an end of life patient.
    After doing the necessary work and making her comfortable, while we were walking out and bidding bye, the smile she gave me is still etched on my heart.