I would say my two favorite books written by Dickens are "Great Expectations," and "A Tale of Two Cities." I have felt at times like many of you I am sure, that the opening lines of Dickens', "A Tale of Two Cities," are very descriptive of most of our lives. "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us..."
Life is very dynamic and ever changing. It is never static, and the best of times can quickly become the worst of times, while our spring of hope can be turned into a winter of despair. Often times these seemingly polar opposites are found operating simultaneously in our lives.
I was thinking back about the six long months I spent at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Hospital immediately following my accident 19 years ago. A season of hope had been turned into a winter of despair in a split second, and I thought at the time that the best of times had all of a sudden become the worst of times. Instead of having everything ahead of me I could see nothing ahead and light had turned into blackness. However, even during that season of darkness, there were brilliant flashes of light that dispelled the gloom and hopelessness and made the worst of times the best of times, even if for just short periods of time. Let me explain.
There was an African American nurse that worked the night shift from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. about three nights each week. She radiated a spirit of love and light that penetrated my dark world every time she was with me. Every morning before she would leave to go home, knowing that with the shift change I would probably not see another nurse for at least an hour, she would get a basin full of hot water and with a washcloth she would wash and massage my face in a most loving and caring way. It was not doctor's orders and no other nurse ever thought to do it... but she did, and she did it every morning she was there. No one can know how good that felt, especially when you can't feel anything in your entire body except your face and the top of your head. But as good as it felt physically it even felt better emotionally to have someone, really a stranger, show that kind of love and concern.
Another flash of light that always brought hope and made the worst of times a good time was the care given to me by an African-American nurse's aide. He was a big man, muscular, an Afro hairdo, ear rings, various tattoos, and a loud voice. You wouldn't want to meet him in a dark alley late at night. Poor Jo Anne was afraid to leave the hospital that first night that he was to be a participant in my care. How true it is that looks can be deceiving. I was never treated with such respect, kindness, and tenderness by anyone at Rancho than by him. He couldn't do enough for me. I always rejoiced when I realized he was to be my helper during a 12 hour period. It was obvious to me that what he was doing was not being done out of a sense of duty but out of love and deep concern for me and the other young men in our spinal cord injury unit. He had a great sense of humor and made me feel good in spite of myself and the trauma I was going through.
My physical therapist at Rancho was a little, barely 5 foot tall girl, with blond hair who had the heart and spirit of a tiger. She pushed me, never showed pity for me, and worked me as hard as she could each time she came into my room. She gave me exercises I was to do to strengthen my neck muscles and would accept no lame excuse for not doing them religiously. I can still hear her footsteps in my mind marching down the corridor to my room. Had she been in the Army she would have surely been a general. She was my advocate and cut through the bureaucracy and red tape of the county facility I was in, and while my roommates and others in the spinal cord injury unit were still languishing in bed, she had me up racing through the corridors of the hospital terrorizing everyone in sight in a mega, breath control power wheelchair. When I left the hospital and sadly said goodbye to my two roommates who had been at the hospital months before I got there and wouldn't leave for months after I left, it just didn't seem fair they didn't have my same physical therapist. She kindled a light inside me through her toughness and no-nonsense approach to my care, and made me believe in myself and that maybe I could have some kind of life even in my paralyzed condition if I were willing to work hard enough.
These, and many other experiences I have had throughout my lifetime, have helped me to realize that there are going to be seasons of light and dark, hope and despair, times when we feel we have everything before us and then suddenly nothing. We can't control circumstances but we do have the power to not let our individual circumstances control us.
I believe one of the important things that helps us through the hard times and keeps us from succumbing to the circumstances life brings to all of us is what I choose to call the lovingkindness manifest to us by others -- the kind of loving kindness I experienced at Rancho.
I use the word lovingkindness because I think it is more descriptive than the words charity or love, although all these words are synonyms describing the "pure love of Christ." The word lovingkindness is used numerous times throughout the Scriptures to describe God. The vast majority of the references come from the book of Psalms. For example: "Because thy lovingkindness is better than life, my lips shall praise thee." [Psalm 63:3] "How excellent is thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings" [Psalms 36:7]
The lovingkindness manifest to me by so many during my lifetime has always helped to make the worst of times the best of times, and magically turned seasons of darkness into seasons of light. Perhaps the greatest gift we can give one another, given the challenges and problems we all face, is simply to treat all with whom we interact, especially family members, with lovingkindness.