I had not planned to go to the ER today. No, when I woke up this morning, I had lists and plans; places to go and people to see. But as the saying goes, life has other plans for me, which, thankfully, turn out ok.
By early afternoon, a loved one who never complains about anything at all is so ill and in so much pain that we need to hightail it to the ER. As I grab my coat, the Santa Hat that had been resting on top of it falls into my arms, too.
Pause. Again, the question--will it be unseemly or thoughtless to sport the Santa Hat in the emergency room's atmosphere of suffering and fear? Will it be too much joy? I decide: more joy=better. If it will soothe me even a wee bit in my shaky state, maybe it will help someone else.
I stuff the Hat on my head.
One of the cool things about an intentional practice is that when you do something repeatedly, it feels more comfortable to keep on doing it. (See, e.g., religion). I've worn that Hat so many times in so many situations day in and day out, even dire ones, that it feels more familiar, better, to wear it.
And, yes, that Hat is drenched in a decade full of luminous memories like the ones I reap today. Memories of delighted smiles and chuckles. Of the nurse getting off her shift and calling out to me all the way across the parking lot to say she loves seeing a jolly soul. Of hospital staff looking up solemnly from their charts and then grinning once they see me. "Love your Hat!" and "So nice to see someone has the holiday spirit!"
The lovely attending ER nurse was floored that I've been wearing the Santa Hat for ten whole years of Christmases. "You mean you wear it EVERY day? So, you'll wear it again tomorrow?" Mais oui, bien sur, but of course.
This flood of human connections isn't all that surprising if you think about it. As we're falling down the rabbit hole of emergencies and uncertainty, pain and fear, would we like someone to throw us a little lifeline to remind us of joy and whimsy and sparkle? Or do we want to free fall into the darkness?
Sure, sometimes we don't have a choice. And some folks would rather do the dark free fall. But if I do have a choice, I choose choice A (in case you were wondering :)). Wearing the Santa Hat reminds me of the magic in life, especially in the form of warm human contact that the Hat invites and that many of us find reassuring.
Even if it's only a small and silent smile between two sets of eyes. Like the one exchanged between me and the family member in the curtained area next to ours whose loved one is suffering severely and audibly.
Sure, here in the ER amidst the beeping monitors and the IVs and the pain, I'm somewhere I don't want to be. I'm scared and powerless over a lot.
But what I can control is my response, including taking a teeny tiny vacation from the willies with my fellow travelers. It makes it all a bit more enjoyable, weaving a thin but glowing thread amongst the darker hues.
When I ask the ER nurse if I can bring the staff some cookies, I barely get the question out of my mouth when she dives in with, "Are you kidding?! We would love that." How can I even have wondered when I watch these everyday heroes helping others in crisis after crisis.
I return later to deliver the cookies, and you'd think I'd brought a cache of gold given the teary, grateful response. When they see the cookies, these intrepid medical folk have the saucer-eyed look of wonder that kids display on Christmas morning.
Yeah, baby, there is a Santa Claus. It's called LOVE.