At the Foot of the Bed
Reverend Jon Arnold
During my daily rounds at the hospital, I came across a room where I could immediately tell by looking through the glass doorway that the man inside, though his back was to me, was visibly disturbed. He was anxiously sitting up on the far side of the bed with his feet hanging off while he pulled repeatedly at the unkempt sheets.
Knocking on the doorframe, I announced myself: Hello, Im Chaplain Jon. Is everything all right in here?
Pointing to the wall at the foot of the bed, the man replied, No, there is a crucifix. I sighed as I examined the wall, knowing full well what was there, and I quickly looked at my census list to verify the patient information and faith tradition. I found the room number and the only word I needed to see: Hindu.
As a Protestant chaplain serving at a Catholic hospital in the multicultural and interfaith environment of Los Angeles, it was not infrequent for me to find patients perturbed by the presence of a crucifix on their wall. Trying to be diplomatic and defuse the situation, I explained, If you are offended by the crucifix, I can make arrangements for it to be removed during your stay here. The truth, more accurately, is that some of the more zealous of the Catholic faith had learned of this practice of accommodating people of other faith traditions, and had most of the crucifixes permanently installed on the wall, so the best effort to accommodate patients often was to drape a cloth over the offending relic.
The Hindu patient left me dumbfounded by what he told me next. Turning more toward me and pulling one knee onto the bed, his face wrinkling from being misunderstood, he explained, I am not offended by the crucifix. I am disturbed that it is at the foot of my bed, which is a place of dishonor in my culture. Every time I lie down, I feel as if I am disrespecting the God of this hospital.
The teacher had just become the student. I was overwhelmed with how much respect this man had for a faith not his own. I couldnt help but think that I had just glimpsed a nugget of human unity whose offspring surely is peace.
This story was previously published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Stories for a Better World.