The paint brush falls, twisting, this cosmic splash of color dashing toward the art studio floor and my wife, watching me from the couch, says “I’ll get a rag.”
“No,” I whisper to her, gentle, then turn back to the picture emerging from the canvas. These coincidental accidents bring beauty to not only art, but to art studios themselves, I think and that’s so true of humanity too, how so often it’s the differences that give vibrancy to an otherwise dull world.
So she sits there, watches me paint, watches the way I dip the brush, watches how a stroke of green merges with blue and the waves of an ocean take shape.
The paint brush, fallen, lies on the floor, a puddle of blue drying beneath it.
And she resists the urge to clean because she understands something I’ve been trying to learn all my life:
The day in the emergency room is over and I’m sitting in my chair, drinking coffee and I open the news app. My breath catches, bitter bile rises. My coffee sits cooling as I read. So many dead. So many wounded. Oh, Orlando, I’m praying for you. I close my eyes, lean back, sigh deep.
I remember her well, the way I met her in the ambulance bay and she couldn’t get out of her car, couldn’t catch her breath because she was crying so hard.
Her partner’s panicked face met mine and we struggled together, her and I, to get her into a wheelchair, into a room and I placed a bag around her mouth, rubbed her shoulder and told her, “Breathe with me, slow and steady, in, then out…” Because that’s all you can do when hatred pours raw and ugly down around you and the darkness closes in; you reach toward the few who love and just breathe together.
“I’ve been working every day this last week.” Her words come in staggering, clipped gulps. “And they called me again today because we’re so short-staffed at the nursing home and I know they need help but I just can’t…”
She slumps against her partner, wipes the tears against the sleeve of her shirt.
“And my dad called when I was getting ready for work and he just yelled at me.”
“We just told everyone about our relationship,” her partner explains.
I offer her a tissue, squirm in my chair.
“Those old people at the nursing home,” she whispers, “I love them. And they love me. They need me. I just can’t go today and I feel so guilty.”
“Once a nurse, always a nurse,” I smile at her. “I know the feeling all too well.”
I leave then, leave them together beneath warm blankets and they cry together and when I sign them out, now much calmer, she reaches for me, wraps her arms around my shoulders and says, “You were the best nurse I’ve ever had. Most people can’t look past the blue hair to see me.”
“Thank you,” I reply. “Today’s been a hard day and not all people are as nice as you.”
I go back to my desk, close my eyes, breathe deeply because the patient in the room next door who just swore at me has their call light on again and I’m suddenly weary from trying to heal all the hurting in the world.
Love. Just love. You don’t have to understand.
I stand, go into the room and I’m thinking of another Man who came to earth and loved the prostitute at the well, how He ate dinner with the embezzling tax-collector, how He loved a murderer as they hung on the cross together in pain… how He left such a powerful witness to how we should truly live and love.
“What the **** happened to me?” the man asks lying on the cot.
“You were found in only your socks wandering the streets, completely naked,” I explain this for what seems the hundredth time. “Somehow you hit your head or someone hit you. You were bleeding a lot when you came in.”
“Am I going to bleed to death?” he slurs.
“Not on my watch. I’ll do my absolute best to keep you alive.”
He lies still. Then grabs my arm, pulls me close and I feel as though I’m getting drunk myself off the alcohol from his breath. “You’re a good man. I don’t want to die.”
I smile broadly.
“Then I need you to do something for me. I need you to keep your clothes on first of all. None of us enjoy seeing all that. And I want you to lie perfectly still so you don’t start bleeding again from your head.”
He goes rigid, still, determination to live through this day. I smile. “Yep, just like that. That way you won’t lose any more blood.”
The Band-Aid on his head covers the already clotted off head wound.
It’s true. You don’t always have to understand to still love.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them who despitefully use you, and persecute you; That you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven: for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love them who only love you in return, what reward have you? (Matthew 5:44-46)
**the situations, dates, names, locations, genders etc… have all been omitted or changed to protect the identity of the individuals in the story