“i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
where does it hurt?
– Warsan Shire
I return to Warsan Shire’s “What They Did Yesterday Afternoon” when processing difficult world events. These days pain seems stitched tightly everywhere. The past year has only provided more evidence to this point. In witnessing the actions of the new Administration, countless natural disasters, sickening legislative developments, and rising geopolitical tensions, I have thought to myself, Oh my God. It hurts…Everywhere.
Christmas Day, this year, did not go as planned. My family spent half the day in the hospital, unexpectedly, with my grandmother. Christmas, though, is the best reminder to make room for love, even when it feels impossible. I will always make room for my family and loved ones, and through doing so this Christmas, I was reminded how much goodness fills the small things.
After my grandmother was admitted to the hospital, she received a consult from a doctor whose bedside manner was robotic and rushed, whose tone was condescending and harsh. He entered the room and stated quickly, “I know a lot about your medical history….” He proceeded to list everything he knew about her body and when he had finished interrogating her about her symptoms, he said, “See? I know a lot.”
When the doctor left, my grandmother looked frailer, more frustrated, and depleted. “He, he, he… didn’t listen to me…” she stammered. The doctor talked at my grandmother, instead of speaking with her. He read and knew her charts well, but he failed to see her as a human being, recovering from surgery, coping with illness, and scared by unfamiliar pain that took her away from celebrating with her family.
The nurse, in contrast, came in several minutes after the doctor had left. She looked my grandmother in the eye, and asked, “How do you feel about the doctor’s plan moving forward?” This nurse’s attentiveness and patience were clear. With surety and generosity, she responded, “No one knows your body better than you.”
Throughout the night, as we waited for updates and test results, the nurse returned with steadied kindness and honesty. She, in the middle of the night, working on a major holiday, in the middle of a snowstorm, was a light worker: she stood for compassion, the warmth of which was felt by all present.
Where does it hurt? Everywhere. But where is there love? Everywhere, too.
Light workers are earth angels. They make room for love despite what seems mundane, insignificant, or inconvenient. In this world, there is so much healing to be done, so much understanding to be found, so many systemic and acute issues to solve, and so much illness to overcome. Those of us who awake and are paying attention – the light workers – have complicated work ahead of us. However, we cannot forget that small acts of compassion have lasting impact as well. A light worker, who brings compassion in small ways, lights up the part of the atlas where she stands. The nurse, through her kindness, her patience, and her realness, sent up a flame. She said, “Yes, it hurts here, but there is also love here.”
The gift of this Christmas was realizing this: The world is vast and the swathes of suffering are incomprehensible, but both love and pain are intensely specific. As Mother Theresa said, “do small things with great love.”
Love stitched within pain and anxiety, not only makes life more bearable from moment to moment. Love stitched within life’s ordinary difficulty also sends up light that helps to heal the world.