Raised in the Catholic tradition by two parents of strong faith, faith must have been imparted to me through osmosis. For at a very early age, I believed without question
God would support, protect and help me when called upon. I never could have conceived of a time when my faith and trust in God would be broken.
The Christian mystic St. John of the Cross named spiritual desolation as the “dark night of the soul.” In Buddhism, the dark night is likened to “falling into the Pit of the Void” which sounds about right based upon my experiences.
My dark nights of hopelessness didn’t last forever. Reflecting back, I noted spiritual growth and a deepening of faith in spite of the anguish or perhaps because of the anguish. My beliefs about God changed and matured beyond the concepts I had been taught as a child.
The darkest descent occurred with my ten-year old son Sean in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This wasn’t the first time I had a dark night of the soul experience but this was particularly heart-wrenching because it involved my son.
We lived in Northeast Ohio and Sean, my oldest child began to have seizures in the first year of his life. Over the years multiple types of seizures developed and grew in frequency. Years of interventions never brought the seizures totally under control.
Desperate to minimize the seizures and the detrimental impact they had on Sean, I pursued a surgical option at a hospital in Minneapolis where brain surgeries were performed. The surgery was not meant to be curative but palliative and possibly improve Sean’s quality of life. Weighed against multiple risks, it was a difficult decision to make.
I prayed to discern what to do and found consolation in an Old Testament story about God and Abraham. Abraham was asked by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. Abraham prepared an altar, placed his son on it and just when he was about to plunge the knife into Isaac’s heart an angel appeared and stopped him.
It was beyond my understanding why a loving God would ask Abraham to sacrifice his son but I placed my focus on Abraham’s faithfulness. I likened the strength of my faith to Abraham’s and trusted God to protect Sean from harm.
We chose to proceed with the pre-surgery screening process. Several weeks were spent at a children’s hospital in St. Paul where Sean underwent many tests. Once the evaluations were completed, a medical board reviewed the findings along with Sean’s medical history to determine the appropriateness and viability of the surgery.
The board approved Sean for surgery. We returned home and made arrangements to return a few weeks later to a partnering hospital in Minneapolis for the surgery. Everything went as planned. Sean’s Dad and I were filled with immense relief hearing the surgeon tell us the surgery was a success.
After speaking with the surgeon, Sean’s Dad left to drive back home in order to be with our two younger children. As I sat by Sean’s bedside, just a few hours after the surgery, Sean had a serious seizure. In response to my call for help, a medical team rushed in and within a short amount of time, Sean had another seizure.
Witnessing my distress, one of the surgical team doctors pulled me aside explaining how common it was to have a seizure after surgery due to the swelling of the brain. In time, the swelling would lessen. Most importantly, the seizures did not indicate the surgery did not work.
He also stated when they began the surgery an event happened and they didn’t think Sean was going to make it. Astounded by what I heard, upset over the seizures, I ran out of the hospital. I crouched behind a secluded corner of the hospital and wept as I cried “What have I done?” over and over again.
Any certainty once held about the surgery benefit for Sean dissolved and in its place was the agony knowing the wrong choice was made. Right then and there, along with an unstoppable flow of tears, my faith dissolved. God had abandoned us or so I believed. I couldn’t escape from the sense of doom that Sean’s seizures would continue and his suffering was for naught.
The schedule ahead was daunting. Several weeks of in-hospital rehabilitation was needed followed by weekly out-patient speech and physical therapies once we were back home. No longer of the belief that God supported me, I felt totally overwhelmed.
After a few post-surgical days, Sean deemed medically stable was able to be transferred for rehab back to the hospital where the pre-surgical testing took place. I ordered a taxi to drive us from the hospital in Minneapolis to the hospital in St. Paul.
Sean left the hospital with his head wrapped protectively in a white turban of bandages. The hospital staff gently placed him in the back seat of the taxi cab. Sean who looked extremely pale and fragile leaned up against me motionless and speechless.
During the drive, I couldn’t bring myself to make small talk with the cab driver. When we reached our destination, I asked the cab driver how much I owed. He turned around to look directly at Sean before he turned his gaze to me. “No charge” he said, “I want to do this for you and your son.”
It was humbling to be on the receiving end of the taxi cab’s goodness. His kindness blessed Sean and I. His compassion touched my heart.
I thought of the cab driver as an angel and likened him to the angel who appeared to stop Abraham. Maybe this cab driver appeared to stop me from prostrating myself upon an altar of guilt and regret which served no purpose at all.
Offering a free cab ride may have seemed like a small gesture yet it meant so much. Kindness is like that…the person who extends compassion may never fully realize the impact on the person who receives the kindness. Somehow the cab driver’s kindness softened the despair I felt and helped me feel like we were going to be okay.
I don’t believe in random acts of kindness. Rather I see it as divine assistance coming through at the most opportune time. Be on the lookout for opportunities to be kind. Your act of kindness and compassion may be what ignites a spark of hope for another in the midst of darkness.
Featured Image Credit: Daiga Ellaby (Unsplash)
Other Image Credit: Clay Banks (Unsplash)