By Norris Burkes
Posted Mar 12, 2017
Do you ever have such good start to your day that you could describe it with the Mary Poppins moniker “practically perfect in every way?” In the years I served as a pediatric chaplain, those days were hard to find.
However, I remember starting one such “practically perfect” day by finding a perfectly shaded spot in our hospital parking lot. Though there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, I was overwhelmed with such synchronicity that my head filled with the syrupy lyrics of “Singing in the Rain.”
When my day starts this well, I like to reward myself with a cup of hot chocolate. Sure enough, the perfect cup was served with a greeting as sweet as the chocolate itself: “Chaplain, is that a new tie? Very cool!”
On the go with cocoa, I took a too-slow elevator to the pediatric floor for a visit with my 5-year-old friend, Opal.
Opal was dressed in street clothes awaiting discharge orders. She greeted me with the largest smile ever pasted on such a small face. “Swing me! Swing me!” she said, seizing my fingers with a full-handed grip. As we swung, I caught a glimpse of two nurses giving us one of those “aren’t they perfectly cute!” smiles.
Just then, Opal’s doctor arrived and I said my goodbyes to pediatrics and wandered off toward the pediatric intensive care unit (which we pronounce “pick-u”).
Why can’t every day be as flawless as this one? I thought.
The PICU would give me a new perspective on the “perfect day” when I met a 13-year-old boy named Alex.
Alex’s mom explained to me how they’d recently learned on a not-so-perfect Mother’s Day that their son’s cancer had returned. I motioned for her to step out of the room to say more as Alex slept.
Just then, an alarm called her back to his bedside. I followed. The blood-oxygen indicator told us that Alex’s oxygen levels had fallen dangerously low. Mom was the wife of a military officer, and she found her voice by issuing an urgent motherly command: “Breathe, Alex. Breathe. Take a deep breath.”
Her son followed the orders and we watched his chest rise and fall a few times. The indicator showed Alex’s blood oxygen returning to normal levels, but this mom wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“Take one more,” she urged through a deep inhale she hoped he would mimic. She placed an approving hand on Alex’s forehead and said, “There, that’s perfect. Just perfect.”
Suddenly the syrupy “Singing in the Rain” lyrics vanished from my head and were replaced with a new song: “Holy, Holy, Holy.” I knew I was standing in the presence of perfect and holy love and my understanding of a perfect day was instantly transformed.
Who was I kidding? There was no rain in my life that I could sing in. There had been only sunshine and a slow elevator to mar my morning. Here was a mom huddled under a downpour of anguish, holding such a full heart of loving sunshine that it transformed all who witnessed it.
I was humbled to be in the presence of such holy love. It was obvious now that a perfect day needn’t be defined by events that happen or don’t happen. Nope. “Perfect” is about knowing the kind of love this young man knew, love that was there for him, no matter what, to help him in the most basic things, to love him through the best and the worst parts of his life.
Although Alex lived only a few more months, he gave me new perspective on what makes a perfect day, a perspective I will always hold close to my heart. A perfect day is not what happens around you, it’s what happens within you. If you spend your days loving someone and being loved, then no matter how difficult the circumstances, the day will always be a perfect day.
My prayer for this week is that we find opportunities to share such perfect and holy love.
— Column adapted from Norris’ book, “No Small Miracles.” Contact Norris at [email protected] or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, Calif., 95759. Twitter @chaplain or call 843-608-9715.