We love stories. It makes sense too. We love the back story, the comical, the meaningful, the narrative that makes the core of any person. Stories speak volumes about who we are. And we as chaplains, staff at a children’s hospital, and caregivers, we have embraced it. Stories bring us to tears and make us smile. Stories tell us what people value and what those parents and child loved. We love focusing on a story, especially the tragedy, and it’s understandable.
But what about this little boy today who went to be with God after an incident at a pool?
If I told you about this child today, you’d probably be moved by the tear jerking story. I do too.
If I told you about the circumstances, you hear the tragic story of a future that will not be. I do too.
If I told you about this little boy, you’d probably be saddened, distressed, and heartbroken. I do too.
But there is more. There has to be. A boys life becomes defined by this one story of why he ended up here in the hospital dying. But it’s just one story, one narrative, one expression of his life. Is that fair to him?
This is convicting for me. I say this because after his family said their final goodbyes, I sat next to him and held his soft hand. I said a prayer for him and told he was precious and loved. And then I noticed his fingernails. His fingernails had dirt under them. His fingernails carried many stories of play and fun and a boy being a boy. His fingernails told stories that his hospital story could not.
I couldn’t help but imagine the stories it could tell. Perhaps he was digging in the flower beds looking for worms. Perhaps he was throwing dirt with other kids while laughing all the while. Perhaps he was running with his parents and fell to the ground, bracing himself with his hands and then reaching to his parents to be picked up. Perhaps he was helping his parents water plants. Perhaps he climbed a tree and collected his dirt from its branches. The imagination runs. Just from dirt under his fingernails. And I needed it.
The dirt under his fingernails opened wide his story, and opened my mouth in a smile. Because I had been gifted with a story. Not just the story of heartbreak or the story of tragedy. I was gifted with the story of a boy, whose life was worth remembering just as much as his death. I was feeling so taken by the tragedy that I almost missed the opportunity to just see him as a boy. The tragedy and the the boys life are not disconnected as you may think I am saying, but one often trumps the other. We are challenged to hold them together in tension. Tonight, among the tears and the devastation, I am grateful for the dirt under his fingernails that reflected his laughs and his play. Tonight, in my grief, I still am grateful for a boy and his playful hands.
(May God open my eyes to these ordinary treasures, to see the dirt under all our fingernails, and see the stories they too represent.)