I was just getting ready for bed last night when my phone started ringing. I only ever get calls these days from the hospital, so my phone starting to ring produces a bit of a Pavlovian panic response akin to the code pager, for those who understand that analogy. I wish I could say that every time I get called up to the hospital I respond with joy at the opportunity to go up and save some poor woman's life, but if I'm honest I'd almost always rather stay in my pajamas and climb under my blanket and stay warm and cozy. Last night was no different, but it was clear after talking to the doctor on call that the transfer patient needed an urgent hysterectomy, so I changed into my scrubs and headed up.
It's not a long walk to the hospital from my house, but at 9:30pm it's dark and deserted. The guard at the front gate walked up with me and we stumbled together over the bumpy dirt road, illuminated only by 2 fluorescent lights on the local school building. It's hard to imagine a darker place than the rural part of a country with minimal electricity. In the OR, the patient was unconscious. My team did well and we were able to stop her bleeding and transfuse 3 units of blood. But she never regained consciousness and died not long after we sewed up the skin. We had done what we could, but she arrived too late for us to save.
I walked out the back gate of the hospital and looked up at the sky. It was a brilliant sky last night...perfectly cloudless and cool and the stars were definitely twinkling. Ahead of me I could see the reddish glow of Mars sitting next to Orion, and Jupiter shone brightly right overhead. The idea that I can look up in the sky and see actual planets never ceases to thrill me, and I found my imagination wandering down the path of what the Christmas star must have looked like. What an amazing sight that must have been. The guard walking me home must have wondered why I kept staring up, tripping along, instead of down at my feet. Isaiah 9 kept playing over and over in my head as I walked. "The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned." It's a verse as true today as it was then and I was struck by the literalness and figurativeness of it at the same time. My friend Jennifer posted a blog this past week and she wrote that the light shone on the people IN the darkness. In other words, you have to be in the dark in order to appreciate the light. "The darkness is not a sign that the light has been defeated. It's a sign we're in the right place to wait for it."
I can't see the stars and the planets and the immensity of the universe unless the night is dark. I can't appreciate the light and the promise of hope to come nearly as much if I'm not face to face with the brutal reality of death and limitations and sorrow and grief. Isaiah wrote in the present perfect tense: have seen, has dawned. A verb whose action starts in the past but continues into the present. The Light has come and is here and is coming again, and it shines precisely where I need to see it most.
I walked back into the gate and said good night to the guard. Turning down the path to my house, I saw that the Christmas lights on our tree had been left on to welcome me home, although everyone else in my house was asleep. And again, the lights shone all the more brilliantly for the dark night and the absence of lights in the rest of the house. This Advent season, I want to wait for that light and remember.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it."