Mr. Costa was only forty-one years old and the single father of two teenage daughters. His black hair showed just a bit of gray and his square jaw had a stubble of beard. He was handsome, but thin, pale and weary-looking. As expected, he was attached to a heart monitor, pulse monitor, several intravenous lines and other medical equipment. Twenty years ago, he had received a heart transplant. He had spent the last three months in the hospital with a series of hard to treat infections, eventually facing the last chance prospect of another surgery. A chaplain visited with him in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit, as he despaired over his inability to find any meaning in his suffering. Mr. Costa was very distressed over his diminishing treatment options and the prospect of another major surgery, agonizing about what to do. Previously, he had been an avid hiker and found solace and nurturance in nature. He had lost this connection in the barren technological wilderness of the ICU.
The chaplain embodied a spiritual guide. She suggested visualizations and meditations about his favorite places in nature, where he could be still and find his own source of nurturance and guidance, which he welcomed. As the poet and philosopher John O’Donohue said, “…connecting to the elemental (e.g. aspects of nature) can be a way of coming into rhythm with the universe…there is a way in which the outer presence – even through memory or imagination – can be brought inward as a sustaining thing.” This was a powerful support to reconnect Mr. Costa with a deep sense of his inner resources. In creatively imagining other times of hiking and camping along the Pacific Coast Trail, he was able to capture a sense of guidance and knowing what was meaningful and enduring in his life. This enabled him to regain his equilibrium and decide to have the surgery.
The chaplain blessed his decision: “May you have peace with your decision and renewed hope for healing. May you have confidence in your surgical team. May you be reunited with your daughters as a healthy father. Blessings to you, Mr. Costa!” Fortunately, the surgery was a success.
John O’Donohue said, “I love Pascal’s phrase, that you should always ‘keep something beautiful in your mind’…if you can keep some kind of little contour (e.g. dawn or twilight) that you can glimpse sideways at now and again, you can endure great bleakness.” Most of us have access to something beautiful, even if it is only the sky. We can choose to think about these things. (Phil. 4:8) May you keep something beautiful in your mind today.