God’s Hand

God’s Hand

From Chicken Soup for the Nurse's Soul Second Dose

God’s Hand

Never deprive someone of hope. It may be all they have.

H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Somehow, it had all come to this.

A fifth-and-a-half-a-day drunk and drug addict, homeless in body and soul. Thirty-two years old, two failed suicide attempts. I’d lost everything. And everyone.

Then, on a night like countless others, in the unfurnished back room of someone’s house, passed out on an old mattress on the floor, surrounded by unpacked boxes—something changed.

It had little to do with me. I had given up. Yet suddenly, in the silent hours before dawn, the world became perfectly still, and I was wide-awake, stone sober. A wailing came out of me, as a weight threatening to smother me crushed my body into the sheets, the tears pouring out of me like rain, like hard, deep, crystal cleansing rain until I could not breathe, could not see or hear or move, until whatever had been haunting me came rushing out with a shudder and a gasp and helpless hollow howling, and then died.

I was so sick in my spirit and body that much of what transpired the next few days following that night remains clouded in my mind, and I remember few details. I believe that I walked around in a stupor for a while, and those around me might have even suspected that the shattering of what was left of my sanity had finally come, because no one really spoke to me much. I know that I considered taking a drink, because I no longer knew how to go through a day without doing so, but that somehow I did not. I was too weak to understand what it meant, or what step I should take next.

Still, I had surrendered. On a primitive and very human level, I had given up, and given in. I had, in some unfathomable way, chosen life. I was far too sick and confused at the time to rationally think any of this, of course, to be able to reason such an unreasonable thing. But God’s grace was sufficient. I actually went one day, then another, without drinking. His helpless, but willing and obedient child again, the miracle had begun.

Sometime later, on a gray and rainy afternoon, I found my way to the downtown mission, to an AA meeting in the basement of an old stone church. I don’t remember much about that first visit, or even exactly how I got there. But one moment will remain in my mind as long as I live. I can still see my hands shaking badly as I tried to pour a cup of coffee, the stuff spilling all over the table, and a wrinkled hand reaching in to gently steady the cup and pour it full. And I remember those eyes, the eyes of this seventy-three-year-old woman, and I saw peace in them.

“Looks like you could use some help,” she said.

Her name was Margaret. She told me she was “seventy-something, and that’s all you need to know.” She had been a widow for eight years, and in recovery from her alcoholism for six. And for whatever reason, she took it upon herself to be my angel.

Margaret had been a nurse all her professional life. After she retired, when her husband of forty years became bedridden with cancer, he asked her to take care of him at home, and of course she did.

Margaret came to every AA meeting held in the mission. She had at some point taken on the responsibility of arriving early and making the coffee. She was happiest when helping; a servant’s heart beat strong within her.

Every time I tried to run away, emotionally or physically, Margaret would know. She could see the look in my eyes, and see what was happening. She knew this familiar fear personally, and did not take it lightly. She allowed me no self-pity, no easy way out. And her gentle strength helped save my life.

In a sense, Margaret became Christ to me, much like my own grandmother had when I was a child. Growing up in my alcoholic home, I found refuge in my Mamaw’s house, her unconditional love wrapping itself around me like a quilt. I had over the years nearly forgotten this place. Now Margaret’s love felt the same.

Margaret embodied a kind of calm against my longing. She knew how to listen. I had over the years learned to trust no one. Yet, in a matter of days, I risked drawing near a place shining within her that felt at long last like home. Perhaps, somewhere deep in her nurse’s soul, she possessed a gift of healing that went far beyond her physical years of professional service. Because for one exhausted, shameful man, her eyes shared a dancing grace, and her hands held a healing that time can never still.

I knew her for three brief years. She hadn’t told me about her cancer until months after we met. Others knew, as it turned out, but she had asked that the truth be kept from me, at least for a little while, perhaps until I had gotten stronger. To the end, she tended to my needs rather than her own.

I’ve been clean and sober for over seventeen years. In all that time, I’ve had to learn to move from my selfishness into a spirit of giving, of sharing the hope that Margaret and many others shared with me on a cold afternoon that now seems forever ago. Margaret is gone, but has of course never left me. Whenever fear and shame and an old but familiar sense of loneliness creep into my soul, there remains the soft brush of her hand across my cheek . . . a mother’s hand . . . God’s hand . . . a nurse’s hand.

James E. Robinson

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