The Rules of the Game

So, she’s standing there, one hand on her hip, the other with thumb extended, pointing down the hall. Short, a bit stocky, red hair and an accent that would make anyone in Brookland, NY proud. Her face is not quite a scowl, but she is clearly exasperated. She has been down to the patient’s room, had conversation with him, and returned to confront me at the nurses station. “GO FEED HIM HIS DINNER FOR CRYING OUT LOUD!”

I’m standing in front of her, holding a meal tray that contains pork roast. My patient, who is decidedly Jewish, awaits his meal in a room down the hall. I’m almost dazed at the possibility of uncapping the plate, and visions of his recoiling are playing in my head. He was a home based patient that came into the inpatient center. I’ve know him and his family for some time. They are very committed to their faith and very active in their faith community. I can imagine all of their eyes on me, and Moses standing above me with a scythe ready to take me out for leading one of his faithful astray. I begin to shake.

On the command of this crusty nurse (who, unbeknownst to me is also Jewish) I make my way down the hall, uncap the meal, and begin to feed him his dinner. He eats quietly, knowing full well what is in front of him. When finished, he wipes his mouth and quietly says “Well, that was pretty good”. I make what apologies I think appropriate for the fare, and make my way back down the hall steeped in the guilt of the moment. A life long dedication has just been wrecked. It seems to be a good day for self loathing.

As I approach the nurses station I return the tray to the carrier and then approach my commander who is busy with her paperwork.

“If you don’t mind me asking, just exactly what did you say to him when you went down to his room”?

She looks up, smiles, and in a quiet voice, gives me the one greatest line I’ve ever heard in 8 years of hospice volunteering:

“Let me tall ya somethin’ fat boy. At the end of the game, the rules change. Don’t ever forget that”.

Boy. Was she ever right. I’ve learned countless times that at the end, the rules DO change. In fact, I’ve learned that the rule book goes out the window in most cases. I’ve also finally begun to understand that the rule book really does not matter anyway. Most religious rule books were written by egos that were more about control than awakening. More about money and obedience than seeing into the eternal. More about opression and less about freedom.

The only rule book that really matters is the one we write for ourselves, and as long as those rules are about helping those around us and making the world a better place for our neighbors and those that come behind us, then those rules are sufficient.

I wish you all peace.

Bruce HolstedComment