January 23, 2017
“What is Aleppo?” News junkies recall that Libertarian Party candidate, Gary Johnson, was lost in space, as it were, when he was asked about what should be done for this besieged city at the epicenter of Syria’s civil war. I don’t think it is right to rebuke, much less ridicule, someone for this transitory disconnect from time and place. It happens. It happened to me when I woke up at night and couldn’t find my bedside lamp or make my way in the dark to the bathroom — until I realized I was in a hotel room.
It happened to my brother, Tom, who suffered a stroke on Nov. 16. I observed this when I visited Tom over the Thanksgiving holiday. Although very weak, he does not appear to have any paralysis or significant speech and cognitive damage. But he was, understandably, disoriented. In the regular bedside checks, the nurse would ask, “What’s your name?” “When were you born?” Tom could answer. But when asked, “What day is it?” he was lost. When asked, “Where are you?” he answered, “Cannon Beach.” The answer wasn’t that disconnected from reality. Tom and his wife, Nedra, had planned a trip to the Oregon coast for Thanksgiving. So his answer made sense.
When rested, Tom was alert. We conversed about the TV programs we had watched, “Oz” and “Sons of Anarchy,” recalling the characters in the stories. It took awhile, but our collaborative efforts tracked most of them down. We discussed current events, especially the election. And we brought up “Aleppo.”
When the nurse made his rounds on my last evening with Tom, he asked the usual questions. When asked, “Where are you?” Tom answered, “In the hospital.” It seemed he was no longer lost in space. Then Tom asked a question: “Has this hospital been bombed?” Now it was the nurse’s turn to be confused, but the question made sense to me. We had been discussing the Middle East, the war in Syria and Aleppo. In fact, there had been a moment when Tom was practically sobbing as he talked about the misery of people enduring war. He must have felt very close to Aleppo.
Our personal suffering can be a barrier, but it can also be a bridge uniting us to the sorrows of the world. The communion of saints is a communion of suffering. This aspect of suffering is illuminated by the death of Jesus, who hangs on the cross with two others on his right and left, the scene we contemplated on the Solemnity of Christ the King that concluded the Year of Mercy.
No, Swedish Medical Center had not been bombed. But hospitals in Aleppo have been bombed, and Tom was better oriented in time and space than I.