Barriers broken down

Alison-ChristianWe erect barriers all the time in our lives. They are created because of a kind of shorthand of cultural and learnt expectation. But every now and then things happen to us, which take us out of our usual comfort zones and wake us up to our prejudices and limited thinking.

I spent a rather unusual day at the beginning of this week, being alongside my husband as he went in for day surgery. We were taken to a sideward of six beds. The noises from a couple of the other beds as my husband settled in were not comforting. Two gentlemen who had had the same operation he was about to have were vomiting violently. The curtains round the beds were closed and anxious relatives hovered outside them as nurses administered anti- vomiting injections and cleaned up, all with the greatest of kindness and efficiency, it must be said.

I left the hospital for an appointment as my husband was taken into surgery. I was due to meet with a man with Asperger’s syndrome to talk about various topics around the spiritual care of people with learning disabilities, their carers and others who come into contact with them, and the theology of disability. I do not know exactly what I expected to meet; probably someone with whom I might find it difficult to make emotional contact? What I discovered was a man with immensely compassionate eyes and expression, who listened carefully and thoughtfully to what I had to say and who explained his theological understanding of disability simply and directly. Here was a man who had found God in his disability and made a deep and profound study of the spiritual needs of those with learning disabilities over many years. What struck me was how his heart had travelled with his head to reach the point he was at. I was joyfully surprised at one of those unexpected real “meetings” of two persons that we are sometimes blessed with. This was one barrier down – a barrier that I realised I had erected not purposefully or meaning to be unkind, but just automatically in my ignorance and cultural prejudice.

I returned to the hospital where I waited for my husband to come back from surgery. One poor chap was still being sick behind his curtain. My husband returned, thank fully without a bad reaction to the general anaesthetic. Patients got better, curtains opened and I saw behind the two curtains a Muslim man and a Sikh man. My husband and the others chatted and there was quiet and gentle sympathy of one person with another. A shared condition, the experience of the same operation, had broken down any shyness or self-consciousness there might have been. Curtains closed had meant that all we could know of another was that this was a human being, male, having a bad time. Christian, Sikh, Muslim and for all I know Jew, Buddhist and atheist in the other beds, were simply people together, glad and grateful for the care they had been given.

Another barrier down. Too often, I know, I judge people by appearances. I see the turban before the person; the Muslim beard disguises the human being underneath and I stop at them. The real curtains in the hospital allowed me to see the curtains veiling my mind and heart; the eyes – mirrors of the soul – in my new friend with Asperger’s helped me see myself.