Receiving the Moment
By JIM NICHOLS
Another author used the phrase “receiving the moment” as a paraphrase for contemplation and it struck a positive note with me. It was an admonition to pay closer attention and see what memories and aspirations God calls up from seemingly unnoticeable events.
The biting wind of the day had relaxed to near zero leaving only a clear, cold night. I was making a late delivery to my daughter on the other side of town and had the highway mostly to myself. It was, after all, Christmas Eve.
Perhaps because it was so dark, the holiday lights on the scattered homes and businesses seemed extra bright. The car heater was struggling, and I felt a shiver. I shivered on another Christmas Eve as my father and I left a midnight service at his home church, the church where I grew up years ago. It was the first Christmas since my mother had died. Walking from the building, I repeated a favorite winter preoccupation and stepped on frozen puddles in the parking lot. They cracked into multiple pieces that had a chilled beauty. It was nearly too cold for us to talk much on the walk back home, but I am sure he was as thoughtful as I was.
Back in the car for the delivery, only a few other vehicles were out. As I moved off the highway onto an access road, I slowed behind an ambulance nearing the hospital. It was moving more slowly than I and had neither emergency lights nor siren. There must have been a story there.
Because I work in hospitals sometimes, my hunch was that this was non-emergency transport of a patient who needed some precautionary care. The patient was accompanied by an attendant and the driver was attempting to make this trip a smooth one with no sharp turns or stops. They were not in that much of a hurry; things were under control for now.
The ambulance turned off into the hospital driveway and I continued alone.
Delivery made, it seemed even colder when I returned to the car, but at least the heater was tuned up now. I was again struck at how bright the lights were that night—car lights, streetlights, holiday lights. If I looked too long at any one light, it took a few seconds for my eyes to re-adjust to the darkness around me. Retinas are like that.
The highway was still rather desolate. I suppose some were heading to or from Christmas Eve services at a church. I thought it odd and sad that the parking lot of an “adult” night club/bar had several cars. Lonely people, I suppose.
As I neared home, I passed two assisted living facilities. I am guessing there are lots of stories in those buildings on Christmas Eve. “Let’s go see Grandma tonight.” Her face brightened when the family entered her room. She had been half-asleep and about given up the hope of seeing them. It was good to be there.
In front of one of the buildings was a fire truck. In contrast to the earlier ambulance on the other side of town, this vehicle had gaudy flashing lights. More lights. Workers in uniforms bustled nearby, entering and exiting the building. I suspect these officers were serving more as first responders than firefighters. Nursing facilities have much more need for them.
I composed a short prayer that I use often. Because I am as self-centered as you are probably, it consists of requests to God on my behalf. Most of the requests are easy to produce because they have a clearly positive outcome for me; they do not really cost me anything emotionally. The prayer concludes, however, in which I ask God to continue to prepare me for my physical death. I have now lived nearly 25 years longer than my mother did and my current contemporaries have bodies that are wearing out; mine is too. We know this is an expected part of life, that our moments on earth will sometime end. I feel weird sometimes praying about that, but even the concluding moments need to be received from God.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain