In the Cathedral of Wonder, Sadness and Joy
by Adira Rotsein
I am sitting in the cafeteria of Sunnybrook Hospital. Although the food is geasy, the view is fascinating. The light in here reminds the artist in me of a cathedral, like the ones I saw in Spain. The ceiling is very high and arched with a partially glass roof, and where the big fresco, altar or bimah would be in a religious building there is a bank of glass elevators. There are three going up and down and up and down, their robotic metal components exposed to us the cafeteria below so we can watch.
There are people at every table. God, I love people. Humans, endlessly fascinating in their variety. I could write a story about each one.
I am always afraid to come to hospitals, despite the fact that both my parents and myself have often worked in them. I am terrified of germs, of illness and pain. It makes me sad to see people in difficult physical and emotional circumstances, homeless people, mentally ill people, sick people too. My soul sympathizes and I feel sorrow, the emotional touch of too many things I don't want to feel. I do not like to feel sad, even just a little bit. The sorrow touches that much greater, deadly sorrow slumbering within me and to wake that devouring beast is what scares me most of all.
So I tend to be afraid of hospitals.
But today I am here looking around. The air is charged with feeling if you can taste it, the way I can sometimes. Big moments in people's lives happening here... a mother pushing a fresh newborn baby in a pram. She wears a clean white linen dress and beautiful sandals. The baby I can't see, but the mother looks determind, happy and hopeful... or perhaps I only think she does...
A man sits down across from me and takes off his fishing hat. He looks healthy, meaty, around 62 years old, a little overweight, but with plenty of hair, all grey. He has a nice, friendly face. I wonder what he is here for. Did he wear the fishing hat because it is raining?
Visiting my mom in her office at the hospital as a child, I used to see the long term patients out in their pajamas, standing or in wheelchairs, defiantly smoking on the back lawn of the Toronto General. They scared me. I knew from my parents' talk how easy it was to become one of them, just touch the wrong railing, get the wrong virus and there you were. It feels wrong and cruel to talk about it, but there you are.
Here in this weird cathedral I don't feel afraid or upset and I am relieved. The elevators go up and down and I wonder where the people in them are going. What is going on behind the doors on the floors they open on to? Are they going to see family members? New babies being born, people being made well again. Pregnant people walking around and people motoring by in chairs. I know of people who went to this hospital. One was ill and came here to be cured and returned to his every day life. Most of the people here today don't look like they are dying or terribly upset and I am heartened.
There are times in my life I've seen and smelled death on people. Nothing here at the moment.
It is a strange thing when you smell death. On the one hand it makes you feel sad, on the other it makes you feel very alive and aware of all your sensations and impressions. Perhaps that is what keeps doctors in their jobs, that alive sensation, or maybe it is just the steady income and prestige, who knows? Probably a different reason for everyone.
When I've sensed that certain people were going to die or that they were very very ill...it was strange and felt definitive, but it is not an unfailable sense. Most people could see it, it was nothing special, just visible signs of outward and inward decay. Sometimes it is quick and sometimes it happens years after I've noticed it. Or perhaps we just remember the predictions that turned out right. We forget Nostradamus's predictions that never came true, and they were probably a lot more numerous than his successes.
Well, I got to get on my way now. This wasn't exactly what I planned to write today, but then I suppose what is?