Last week, I was eating lunch in our hospital cafeteria and dematerializing into my own little world, when a voice from the other side of the table began calling me back with a question.
"Are you all right?"
Wait. I know that voice. Her mother had dropped her at the hospital to have lunch with her dad, and now she was doing just that -- despite the fact I was being a bit absent from our date.
Not only did I recognize the inquisitor, but I also recognized the question as one I had been hearing from at least two patients.
"I need to know if I'm going to be all right," the first patient said.
"There are no guarantees," I said, "but I think you're in the right place to get help."
"I'm going to die," she panted, "I know I'm going to die!"
She was a young woman who had been admitted with the same condition from which she had lost her father.
"Lately, I've been having a lot of premonitions about my father. He was only 40 when he died."
"It feels like he's inviting me to join him, and that's why I'm here in this condition."
"Possibly," I allowed, "but it could also be that your anxiety over these premonitions along with your recent job loss brought you to this point."
"Think so?" she said squeezing a glimmer of hope through her half-shut eyes. "You think I'm going to be all right?"
Meanwhile from another floor, I was getting daily pages from new parents who want their baby to be all right.
"Have you seen our baby today?" the father asked. "Did you pray for her?" added the mother. "Is she going to be all right?"
Now, in a neighboring hospital, my friend best fitting the scriptural description as "the one who sticks closer than a brother" has undergone cancer surgery.
He's a pastor and his church hosted a prayer service for him the night prior to the surgery. His friends attended for one reason. We wanted to do everything we could to make sure he was going to be all right.
Now, as his wife and I followed the surgeon into that infamous "family room" where I had watched many a doctor shake their heads to a grieving family, I heard the question again. I was getting very tired of that question.
"Doctor, tell me, he's going to be all right?" was the plea from my best friend's wife.
Just as we were concerned for my friend, so was St. Peter concerned for the life of his friend, Jesus.
"Don't worry," Peter said in the days leading up to the crucifixion, "as long as I'm around, I guarantee nothing's going to happen to you."
Then, in a bizarre reply, Jesus called Peter "Satan" for making such a preposterous guarantee.
Whew! If it was wrong for Peter to make promises for the safety of Jesus, then how am I to hope that those I love will be all right?
Does such hope place me in that same devilish category in which Jesus placed Peter?
Hopefully not. I think Jesus was teaching that by losing our concern for self, we become free to seek a higher form of well-being for those we love.
Jesus told his band of not-so-merry men that the guy who "sought his own life" -- or placed his own welfare in highest regard -- would be the loser of his life. Only the person who chose to lose his life for the sake of others would actually find real life.
That's when Jesus posed the famous question, "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?"
"Are these patients going to be all right?" you ask. Even more so, "Is our world going to be all right?" I wish I could tell you that the answers are printed upside down on the next page of this section, but they aren't.
I can only tell you that the first patient left the hospital the next day with hopeful medications, but the question continues to be asked for the baby, my best friend and the world.
Nonetheless, by the end of the week, I was finding a bit more comfort with the question.
Then, that voice returned.
"Dad, can I go the movies with my boyfriend tonight?"
"Sure honey. Here's 20 bucks. Have a good time."
She rubbed the bill and held it over a lamp.
"Dad?" she asked, looking at me as if I had been invaded by the body snatchers.
"Are you all right?"