As I watched video of children killed by the gas attacks in Syria, I couldn’t help but realize that, although I didn’t understand the culture or the dialect, I do know the language of tears. I know it from my work with various cultures during years as a hospital chaplain, but most profoundly I remember it from a visit several years ago to our Emergency Room lobby.
The nurse who summoned me there told me to look for an arriving family of Indian decent whose mother was currently under CPR and not expected to live.
Standing in the ER lobby looking for dark-skinned people felt like racial profiling for the most tragic reasons. Nevertheless, within a few minutes, two young men fitting that description entered our ER. However, it wasn’t their skin color or clothing or hair that helped me recognize them.
I saw something I often see in the eyes of families I greet in the ER — no matter the skin color.
As quickly as I told them I was the chaplain, they asked, “Do you have our mother?”
“Can we see her?” they pressed.
I ushered them into a small family room where the doctor soon joined us. The sons peppered our ER doctor with questions, but they didn’t have to wait for answers; they could read the answers in his eyes.
Tears welled. Their noses reddened. The doctor confirmed their worst fears with a nod and a dismissive sentence. Their mother was dead.
When the sons turned to me and asked if they could see their mother, I brought them to the trauma room where she lay under a sheet. A nurse gently pulled the sheet back to reveal the mother’s face. I glanced at the battle-hardened ER nurse where I could see her eyes, which betrayed her emotional involvement.
The sons focused their tearing eyes upon their mom. Gone was the protective watch of their mother’s eyes — replaced by an unrecognizable vacant stare.
Disbelief erupted from their eyes, hearts and vocal chords. Just then, a security guard appeared at the door. These days, any emotional gathering is subject to suspicion. The guard locked eyes with me, giving a protective expression intended to query my need for help. I nodded negatively.
The guard left, but quickly returned escorting sullen-eyed sisters and daughters. They exchanged knowing stares with their brothers and soon the women gathered around their mother’s body, caressing every part of it. They held her mouth as if to hush its pain, brushed her hair as if adjusting her crown, but most frequently, they stroked her eyelids as if to redirect her glance to another world.
The room was inconsolable, bulging with a cacophony of a foreign dialect tangled with heartache. Soon, however, like an outgoing tide, the tears receded. Talk became about funeral homes. Acceptance gained a brief toehold that was evident most in their logical eyes.
I left the ER that day with a new appreciation that grief is the great equalizer between skin color, culture and religion. And while it may be very difficult to understand the political complexities of places like Syria and Iran, one should be able to understand the universal and horrendous sense of losing a loved one.
If we can see that grief, I think we come closer to seeing the world through the anguished eyes of God.