San Francisco Symphony

Last Night (On Call)

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Last night I was called
to the front lines
where life and death battle it out
and no one ever knows
who will stay, who will go
or what, in the end, it’s really all about

I had little with which to defend myself
and no one I could save
not with my words, my touch
my sighs, my gaze
not even with the flesh and bones prayer
spilling from my lips, from heaven
or from the battleground down here

For the young Algerian mother with seizures
who cannot drive her daughters to school
who finally said no
to the man who beat her for a decade
who finally had the strength to make him go
For her, some kindness and a copy of the Quran
that’s all there was to give-
nothing more than a feather and a spoon
for the one with so much light
for her courageous fight to live

Then there was the black-skinned woman
who, to save her kidneys, has lost all her sight
Not knowing how she will continue in this life,
not knowing what to do
I held her hand and prayed with all my might
God, give her strength, help her through
this dark and lonely night

Finally the elderly, Russian man
grey-faced and barely alive
slumped in a chair in the emergency room
pain and anguish in his eyes
his wife, the victim of a stroke
suddenly, frightfully close to her demise
For him, a gentle touch on the shoulder
and the words, “You are not alone,
I am so sorry for your distress”
What else could I say?
What else could I do?
Anything more?
Anything less?

Last night I was called
and I answered
but there were spaces I could not fill
my pockets were empty, my human desire
no match for the Divine will
All I had was a book of holy words
a touch, a look, a smile
the sound of my voice, the prayer of my heart-
being a comforting presence for a while

Maybe this is all we ever can give
maybe this is what’s meant by true love
and in the mystery of life and death and loneliness
maybe it’s all there is, and it’s enough

~Rita Glassman, Chaplain Intern, Spiritual Care Services
UCSF Medical Center, San Francisco, CA/April, 2014