Thirty-five years ago, at the age of thirty-three, my symptoms of heart failure were severe enough to send me to the local hospital for a day in the intensive care unit and a couple more days of observation. As a substitute for a vacation or a few days off, I do not recommend the experience. The challenge of it arose, not so much from the repeated punctures and the shaving of my hairy chest for the required tests, nor the problem of trying to rest when one is awakened every hour by a nurse, but mostly from the anxiety and uncertainty about what would become of my wife and two small children if their breadwinner would lose his job and his life. I was then a minister serving a small but growing church. There was plenty to think about at the time.
While I was in the hospital a fellow minister came to call. This was my first and only time to be visited by a minister while I was in a hospital. For three previous surgeries I was mostly unconscious and did not “have” a minister nearby. I had many experiences of visiting people in hospitals by that time, but none of being visited. He was, shall we say, a very traditional pastor. He had a routine that involved a greeting, a reading from the Psalms (He read Psalm 146 to me. I did not know why, and he did not wait for me to ask why he had chosen it. I just wondered afterward if there was some hidden message that he had for me.) When he finished the Psalm, he started to pray—for me, I think—though I did not remember afterward what he prayed, because I was still thinking about the Psalm. Then he said good-bye, and exited the room.
There were a million things I wanted to talk about, but I decided then it would probably not be with him. His routine and the reasons for it were probably honed over his many years of experience, and he may have been trying to be very considerate of my needs for quiet, undisturbed by the emotions or exertions of conversation about my precarious situation. A month later, after I had returned to my daily schedule, I met him in the course of course of our common duties. We talked about nothing in particular, as if nothing had happened.