By Kate Callaghan, Frist Global Health Leader
“I lie awake at night, and I can’t sleep… I’m afraid that if I close my eyes, I won’t wake up,” the gentle Egyptian man I met moments before, a two-time survivor of cancer, shared with me. “I’m worried I haven’t lived well,” he continued. “You know, I haven’t done good things, like you.”
“Like me?” I stammered back, shocked that a man I just met would think there was something good in me that he did not possess.
I had no words. I so badly wanted to encourage him, to affirm him in some kind of genuine way, but I knew so little about him… So I just sat with him for a moment in the silence. I sat with him and looked him in the eye, and as best I could, I tried to communicate without words that I saw goodness in him.
And after that pause, I asked him a question that is fairly routine at Siloam: “Mr. A, is spirituality something that’s important to you?”
He replied: “Yes. I’m a Christian. And praying is actually one of the only things that helps on the nights when I feel this fear.”
I nodded in understanding, “I’m really glad that helps.”
“You pray too?” he asked me.
“Yes, Mr. A. I, too, am a Christian,” I answered.
He grinned and then went on to talk about the paradox of Christianity’s most famous symbol, the cross. “An instrument of torture,” he explained. “It would be like us wearing machine guns around our necks. That seems crazy to us… Why is the thing that brought about the death of Christ now our most treasured symbol? Ah… because the cross, though it brought death, was not a defeat. On the cross, Christ was victorious. The cross is the sign of Christ’s victory.”
I nearly cried listening to this man so beautifully describe this mystery of our shared faith.
As he finished, I expressed my gratitude to him for his willingness to share his insights with me. As I thanked him, I pulled the ring I wear daily off my right hand, a simple silver band with a cross carved into the center. Taking it in my fingers, I spun it around to show him the word engraved on the inside: VICTORY.
His face lit up with a giant smile: “I said that! Victory!”
“Yes! Yes you did!” I replied, able at last to communicate to him a small shred of the affirmation I had longed to give him moments before.
The encounter finished with a discussion about his openness to trying a medication to help with sleep and a question of whether he might want to see our staff pastor or receive prayer during his visit. He communicated a desire for all three.
I left him with a mix of emotions. I was grieved that a man full of so much goodness and life couldn’t see the good in himself, but I was also so grateful that he would share himself so honestly with me. And lastly, I was humbled by his powerful reminder that I have so much to learn from my patients, not the least of which is that sometimes victory comes in the most unexpected of places, through the most unexpected of ways.
Kate Callaghan is a Frist Global Health Leader working at the Siloam Family Health Center with refugee, immigrant, and other underserved individuals.