Halloween Heartache

It was one hour past midnight, late enough that even the college students who lived in the apartment building across the street had changed their Halloween costumes for pajamas, turned off their lights and fallen into a sugar-induced sleep. I lay in bed, remembering the Halloweens of my youth when Dad and I had gone trick-or-treating together. He had protected me from the goblins, witches and ghosts that had roamed the streets of our neighborhood, and I had shared with him some of the candy I accumulated.
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His Favorite Time

 
I had known since the beginning that it would happen at night, his favorite time. He had always preferred the peace of darkness to the bustle of day. How many times had I woken up to find him still working at his desk? How many times had I left for work in the morning shortly after giving him a good-sleep kiss?
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All Kinds of Dark

 
4 a.m.

If I wake up in the middle of the night, that’s what time it will be, give or take 15 minutes: 4 a.m. No matter what the season, it’s dark at that time of night, it’s lonely, even the cats are snoring. If a window is open, I can hear if an owl, a coyote or, rarely, a whippoorwill or chuck-will’s-widow is crying into the night. If it’s a warm autumn night, I can hear if passing whitetail bucks grunt or click while tracking does.

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The People a Doctor Worries About

 
The middle of the night is when I worry about a patient like Olevia, whose oldest son was shot and killed at the age of 23. He left behind his baby mama and his two baby girls. Olevia didn’t have enough money for his funeral expenses, so she had to promise to pay in installments over the course of the next two years. So she gets a reminder of his death every month in the form of a bill.
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The Baby Monitor

 
My parents slept together in the room next to mine for the last three years. They passed away this spring within three weeks of each other.
 
I invaded their privacy at night because I was so afraid I’d miss them gasping for breath or crying out in pain. I bought a baby monitor. 
 
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The Stroke of Midnight

 
As a member of a youth ministry team, I was sleeping on the floor of a church gym. My brothers knew I was in there, but they couldn’t find a way into the building. They went from door to door without a flashlight, using the building’s limited exterior lighting and finally locating a door that someone, by chance, had forgotten to pull tight and lock. Whether by stroke of luck or stroke of Providence, they were just as surprised as the chaperone sitting by the door when they pulled on the handle and the door swung open with a

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Thoughts on Prayer

 
After all my years of theological training and all my years of experience as a minister, I have come to a simple and rigorous definition of prayer. Prayer is the discipline of listening to the heart of God (one of many names that can be given to the Divine Spirit of the Universe). It is not the human rhetoric of advising God as if God needs to be convinced to do the right thing.
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Compassionate Anesthesia

 
The anesthesiologist walked in with a virtual reality headset–clearly intent on distancing himself from the scene at hand–and, while ambling around the foot of the operating table, chuckled to the rest of us what a nice he would have of the waves in Hawaii.

“We should have let him die,” he said. “It would have saved us time and money.”

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One Was Answered

All through November he prayed, “Please God, help this pain, and please help me find out what is wrong so I can heal.”

Through December: “Please God, when I see the doctor, don’t let it be cancer. And I beg you to please help this pain.”

In January and February his prayer changed to, “Please God, let the chemotherapy and radiation work.”

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Praying to Pray

 
I was 25 years old, a fourth-year medical student, and suffering from a severe depression. I was getting cognitive behavioral therapy (which was then fairly new) from a psychiatry resident at my medical school. I was a good patient and kept a journal describing my therapy. About a week after thinking seriously about suicide, I wrote this prayer in my journal:
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Presence

I take a deep breath in and let it out. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. I wipe the sweat off my palms, adjust the newly-minted stethoscope draped around my neck and knock on the door.

A voice croaks, “Come in,” and I enter the room to find the patient on the chair. His eyes look tired.

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