Thoughts in the Still of the Morning


This story from the surgeon and writer Richard Seltzer in his book, Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery, about a young woman with a tumor in her cheek.

Dr. Seltzer writes of his visit to her hospital room after the surgery.

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of her facial nerve, the one to the muscles in her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. As a surgeon, I had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh, I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

 Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. “Who are they,” I ask myself, “he with this wry mouth who gaze and touch each other so generously?”

 The woman speaks:

 “Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

 “Yes,” I say. “It is because the nerve was cut.”

 She nods, is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says. “It’s kind of cute.

 All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful of my presence, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I’m so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works.

I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and I hold my breath and let the wonder in.

I’ve often looked for God yet could not find him.  I’ve searched in vain, down on my knees pleading for Him to reveal himself, yet I could not find Him.  If only I did enough good deeds or donated enough money; would He show Himself then?

Yet could it be that Heaven and God are hiding in plain sight?  Every once in awhile, if I’m very still and can quiet my mind, I catch a glimpse of Him.  I see Him within the courage of my wife as she deals patiently and so tenderly with her aging parents.  I see Him in many of the teachers I taught with who compassionately cared for their students.  I see Him in the faith of my brother, the beauty of a cardinal in the snow, the laugh of my daughter and the smile of the Pakistani clerk at the the convenience store.

If I really quiet my mind and let go of the past and stop worrying about tomorrow, then Heaven and God open up before me.  The glimpses expand and the words become sentences.

All my life I thought I was so smart.  I thought I could use my brain and my cleverness to find God.  In truth all I really needed to do was stop thinking and be still.



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