When I entered the room, I expected to see a woman in the bed. Instead, the patient looked like a frail, nearly bald man with bad teeth and unruly chin hairs. I thought I must have the wrong room.
“Hi, I’m Teresa McRoberts,” I began, “I am one of the chaplains here.
I am looking for Mrs. Staples?” (not her real name)
“Yes, that’s mama,” said a woman standing by the bed.
“Whoa,” I thought, “It is a female patient—bald head, chin hairs and all.”
In this moment, seeing others took on a spiritual dimension to me. During the months I journeyed with Mrs. Staples, I learned the significance of truly seeing others. One theologian asserts "it is only in relation to others that we exist as persons." Our knowledge of each other and ourselves can be realized only through the mutual self-revelation that is shared "when we love one another." The more I saw Mrs. Staples, the less like a frail balding old man she appeared. My change in perspective revealed a woman, a mother, a grandmother, a widow, a wife, a lover. She actually looked different to me! When I looked at her face, even flushed with fever, I saw the hint of a smile rather than bad teeth. When she opened her eyes, I saw depth, humor, pain, curiosity, love—life!
When we truly see someone we convey a sense of value and significance to that person: you matter—your needs, wants, feelings, emotions, desires matter. Conveyed through our gifts of presence, time, listening, reacting, staying—and sometimespraying—is not ultimately that the person matters to us, but that the person matters to God. As we age, we are called to hear the words of a 12 year old boy written about his grandfather’s battle against Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS): “You have to remember that you are much more than your body,” and strive to see others in the light of God’s love.