How God Looks At Us Like Children
A Catholic friend of mine, who wishes to remain anonymous, reflects on God through the lens of his job working in an Emergency Room.
In recent years, I’ve often wondered how God can look at us all with affection. How is it that He is able to look at us with the affection of a father? How can we—disgusting creatures filled with sin that we are—resemble anything like children to the Creator? There are Islamic murderers, catty in-your-face sodomites, grotesquely obese gluttons, drugged out meth addicts. How can such creatures be looked at affectionately at all?
This has perplexed me for a while. God still loves us, even if we are type of Judas Iscariot, Nero, or an Adolph Hitler. How? How can it be? How is it that the Almighty can love a foul-smelling creep with a bad attitude who refuses to bathe, brush his teeth, or cut his hair?
But then, in the last year or more, I think I may have found my way to some sort of an answer to this riddle.
My Field of Work
I work in an emergency room. The things I see are often horrific. Things such as children run over by their parents. Children with broken skulls and lost eyes from bullies who thought it’d be funny to hit them with a bat. Entire families killed in car wrecks, except for one lone child who was not yet even three years old. Raped toddlers. Horrible, horrible things that I try to forget.
There is nothing worse than witnessing a doctor delivering news to parents or a gathered family of a child who died in a trauma room. God help those people. There is nothing worse than seeing a mother cry when she finds out her little toddler drowned in the pool. That initial burst of unquenchable grief and agony can make even the trauma doctor break apart into a whimper.
It is easy to feel pity for people in this first group.
Other categories of people are frustrating to deal with. Such examples include homeless people who abuse the medical system and check themselves into the emergency room during the winter for warmth and a sandwich. Drugged out addicts with no insurance who come through the doors asking for pain medication, having no general complaint. Then, there are the 500-pound people who smell like rancid urine, and have to be moved with a board from one table to another because they can no longer walk. It’s interesting but also sobering when I have to work with someone brought in handcuffed, fresh from prison.
And then, there are the sad and pathetic cases I see. It’s a pitiable and demoralizing thing to bear witness to an old person brought in from a nursing home, where they were neglected. They perhaps smell bad, their toenails look like fritos. Their legs are bent and cannot be straightened. Their backs are bent forward so much, that their spines resemble the letter C. Their lips and the area around their mouth is covered in slime from some badly applied denture cream.
It’s very frustrating to listen to a 90-year old person struggling to breath, and they have mucus caught in their trachea, and you can hear the airflow toss the lump of snot in their throat back and forth. On some old people, you see their eyes permanently rolled into the back of their head, and you know they’ll be dead in a day or two, if not hours. Their fingernails are overgrown, yellowed with age, and dirty with some sort of biological gunk under the nails. Some people like this are extremely light, and you can lift them up as if they were made out of paper machet.
What gross, disgusting, and frankly, tragic people.
How I Deal With It
Often, I will be working with an old person who is quite disgusting. And this is simply reality. People can get gross when they are old. They cannot wipe their backside, and they wear diapers. They may have bedsores. They may have a smelly gangrene infection on their foot because no one ever paid attention to them. It also may be that their teeth are a dark brown, and most of the teeth are rotted out, and their breath is completely foul. And finally, such a person may have a spot of drool dribbling out of the side of their mouth and down their cheek and neck. Such an old person often resembles a mummy, more than a living man or woman.
It could be easy, as a medical worker, to go through the motions with this person, working as though they’re dealing with a carcass rather than a human being. It would be easy for a medical worker to have a casual conversation about their dating life or what they’ll do at the lake, all the while the infirmed patient lies there silently, unable to speak. Perhaps this geriatric’s glazed eyes stare motionless to the ceiling, and it is assumed by many in the room that the person is an object to talk over. The elderly patient “isn’t all there.”
I look at this cadaverous mummy, and I imagine a black and white picture of a happy toddler on his tricycle. I look at them, and I realize this piece of human jerky was once a round-faced, bouncing, adorable smiling four-year old who ran to into his father’s arms and lifted him into the air. This skeletal horror was once an innocent, laughing, smiling six-year old who got his first puppy one day, his face covered over with happy puppy kisses one bright afternoon.
Sometimes I am dealing with an enormous sack of a human being. Perhaps a woman. A fleshy bag of fat, water, organs, and whatever else. She resembles a giant human tick. All she can do is lie there. She wears thick glasses with thick lenses, bears the start of a moustache over her lips, and dressed in a mumu or a hospital gown, she lies on a bed of moisture pads to collect whatever oozes out beneath her massively grotesque form.
And as my eyes perceive this, I try to think about how this was once a beautiful little girl. I imagine her as a small five-year old sweetie asking her daddy to push her on the swing. I imagine her as a thin, well-raised 7-year old dressed in white for her first communion. I picture her as a fresh cooing newborn, comfortably wrapped in a bundle of warm blankets.
I imagine these people as children.
Consider A Barfly
I am a father. I love my children very much. They are all below the age of ten. I would kill and die to protect them. I have cherished every moment I’ve been off work and spent time with them. My youthful hobbies and habits are gone, and now, my babies are my life.
So, sometimes in my work, I will try to look at the warped and contorted patients in a similar way that I look at my toddler children now. I attempt to imagine these monstrous, infirmed people as healthy and loved little new children. I will ask myself, “If their mother and father were loving people and alive right now, would they look upon their grotesque child with any kind of affection?” Would they love these ruined and dying people as only a mother and father could?
Let us suppose I have some sort of aged, burned out, out-of-her-mind barfly on the stretcher before me. She is 63, and her skin is covered in tattoos. She was a party girl through her twenties, all the way past her fifties. Somehow she survived the lifestyle of a libertine. Her adult years were filled with alcohol, cannabis, and unprotected sex.
And now? Her wrinkles have smudged the once-ornate tattoo patterns into a messy black blob on her arms and chest. Her skin is darkened and filled with cigarette smoke—like a piece of meat that’s absorbed a day of smoke while it sat in a cooker, and no amount of showering can remove the embedded odor. Each ear has half a dozen piercings, and the earrings she wears are caked in human gunk because they’ve never been taken out. And let us suppose this woman refuses to open her eyes, and is not conscious of anything around her due to brain deterioration, and making the most subtle noise will trigger her to strike out and hit you with her bony fist. Perhaps she is yelling and cussing you. Perhaps she is restless, and she won’t hold still in the stretcher—and perhaps she’s even tied down with a restraining jacket. She partied hard, and she lived the feminist American dream. But now? It’s time for her failing body to pay the price for burning the candle at both ends.
And so, I imagine her parents in the prime of their youth. Her mother and father, both in their thirties—the father holding the mother close and firm. Their young faces unblemished by time, and it is as if the mother appears fresh, like she just gave birth to the disturbed, agitated pile of bones on the stretcher. The young couple—who are somehow out of their own time and place—stand in this hospital room and look down upon their daughter, who is now approaching the twilight of her life, and she is feeble and demented. When this pair of fresh parents look down upon the old woman, do they see the withering witch that I see? Or is it possible that they would instead see their young, petite little girl?
Is it not possible that the noble pair looks down and thinks about how, on a sunny spring Saturday, mommy had just come into the kitchen with a bowl of strawberries and cream for their little lady and her brothers and sisters? Or perhaps the father reflects proudly about the day when his little girl wore those tiny red shoes her grandma bought her, as she peddles around in circles in a new tricycle. And maybe the mother remembers her little four-year old girl at the state fair; she is eating a freshly-made batch of pink cotton candy, holding up a bit with her tiny fingers, and says with her sweet young voice: “Do you want some, mommy?” And let us suppose in this scenario that the father looks down at the old woman, and he remembers putting his baby girl on his shoulders as they walk along the boardwalk and watch the sun set over the ocean.
As a mortal man, I am limited with what I can imagine and understand. Yet this is sort of how I imagine God is able to see us as His children. Yes, it is true, in the physical sense, we are looking at people who are ruined and devastated by time and bad conditions. They are abused by life, or they’ve worn themselves out. But beyond the physical reality, the child is still there.
Perhaps, in the same way at Mass, we look at a wafer and see beyond it—that it is actually the Body of Christ—so, too, can we look at a person, no matter their condition, and we can see the innocent little boy or girl that they once were. Perhaps, if we can look at people in this way, we can transcend the ravages of age and ruin, and actually make contact with that spark of innocence in other people.
Perhaps this is one of the many ways God is able to see us as children. Perhaps this is a method by which we can better understand God’s role as a Father to us all. If we can but merely look beyond this troubled world we live in, if we can see past the creeping death that overcomes us all, maybe we can become better people for it.