The hospital confessed its purpose in the world to me. It was no ordinary place. We had always seen it wrong, given it a different identity while it waited for the opportunity to make known its reason for being. It was a portal between worlds, and we were clueless all this while. My hospital appointment that was delayed for more than six hours led me to an experience that changed my perception of the hospital completely.
The time read 8:06 in the morning on Tuesday, April 13th when I arrived at King Faisal Hospital in Kigali, Rwanda. A week prior, I had scheduled a tooth extraction appointment with Dr. Eveline. Unfortunately for me, she got called up for an emergency procedure just about the time she was to attend to me. Assured that it wasn’t going to take too long, I waited. Minutes became hours and the hours stacked. But no signs of Dr. Eveline. My emotions went through a roller coaster, gravitating from very negative to positive and then to an unexpected epiphany at the end of the day. First, I was distraught because my appointment was ruined, and my time was wasting.
After a couple of hours waiting impatiently, I convinced myself to be calm. “I can wait. My situation is not an emergency and that is a good thing” I told myself. Past midday, after taking a walk around the hospital, I became increasingly aware of the situation of other people. That completely changed how I felt about the failed appointment. In a way, I started feeling lucky and blessed. All I had was a misaligned tooth and a delayed appointment. There were many others who were really suffering and some barely grasping onto life. Mindful of that, gratitude flooded my heart and patience clothed my attitude. I made a conscious choice to be graceful and to emanate love to all the people I met, smiling purposefully to uplift a soul. Late in the afternoon, sitting on the same cushion-less seat I had sat on in the morning and cursed for hurting my bottom, a new reality unfolded within me.
I was suddenly thrown into an unusual stream of consciousness; the depth of which I had never touched before. It rendered me motionless, rooted me to the same seat and compelled me to shut my eyes. Then I sank into even deeper depths of consciousness. In a moment, the hospital came alive. It professed itself sacred; appearing more sacred than shrines that undeservedly claim the attribute. It manifested itself as a portal between worlds, between life and death — a real-life life portal. You could enter it in one world and come out in a totally different one — literally and figuratively. Life and death were patrolling its long corridors. They were the deity giving the hospital its sacredness.
In awe, I watched my perception of reality flip. My mental landscape turned into a coliseum. Different plays within it fleshed out a singular theme — the hospital is a life portal. In utter disbelief, I watched the scenes in sequence as my attention spotlighted them. In one scene, I saw how in the same moment in one corner of the hospital building a soul enters this world; a baby is born. Yet in another corner another soul disappears to the world beyond; someone dies. It seemed like a transaction. A transaction of souls? How unsettling. But one did come and another left. Both events, characterized by intense emotions in diametrically opposite spectrums — exceeding joy for those to whom a child is born versus pain, grief, and anguish for those from whom a loved one is taken. Vividly, I saw how inextricably deep bonds of love are formed between mother and child at birth. But I also saw the same bonds get so violently torn apart when one departs breaking the other’s heart beyond mending. The hospital was witness to it all.
It was as if my deeper consciousness was revealing things to my usual consciousness; pulling them from a depth I usually don’t access. The deep consciousness was telling the shallow one, “You would not find any other place on earth where life and death, the beginning and the end, joy and sorrow, bliss and anguish, pain and relief coexist so amicably like the hospital.” A bull’s eye revelation — I surmised. Think about the different emotionally charged events that happen in hospitals. Within the same walls, an individual delights in their newfound health yet another receives news about an incurable disease that will claim their life in a few months ensuing. Within the same walls, a family receives life’s biggest blessing while another incurs life’s biggest loss — a baby is born; a loved one, gone for good.
I was riveted by this otherworldly cinematic experience to the point of a trance. Internally, this cinematic landscape seemed inexhaustible. In yet another scene, I saw an expecting couple rush into the hospital with the tension of labor running high. Days later a happy bigger family came out through the same doors. But I also saw a family hugging in tears. A devastated father trying to comfort his daughter who was shaking her head in tears “No, No, No”. And a little confused boy shaking the hand of his dad persistently trying to get his attention and asking sorrowfully “Mum is gone where? Dad, mum is gone where?”. He didn’t understand what was going on. But the emotions clearly penetrated his soul. My heart sank in sorrow and I felt my eyes well up with tears. My throat went dry. As I struggled to swallow a little saliva, I reminded myself this was all just in my head. But I could neither disconnect from the experience nor be indifferent even with the knowledge that it was all just in my head.
The hospital declared itself a lifeport and manifested as such. Like an airport, life was landing and taking off from it. I saw the most emotionally charged arrivals and departures that change lives forever, for better or for worse. In that moment I truly saw myself as a pilgrim on earth. Everyone is. Our arrivals are marked by celebration and our departures sink our loved ones into trenches of sorrow the depth of which we can’t measure. From the day we arrive, we are guaranteed a return ticket to the world beyond, from where we came. The only unknown is the day and hour of departure. On an unfortunate day the clock strikes time up. And in a flash we are whisked away like light on the flip of a switch. In my mind these life landings and take offs were so fast they seemed like lightning bolts striking earth and returning back to the clouds. And the bright glowing point of their contact, the hospital, the lifeport serving all who come and leave this world.
At about 3 pm I awoke from my daydream at the sound of my name. It was the dentist. It was finally time for me to have my tooth taken care of. As I stepped into the operatory, for a brief moment I wondered if that simple procedure could be how I get teleported to the world beyond. “I might be here thinking I came for an appointment, when in fact I was summoned by the power of the portal.” But I smiled the thought away as the dentist told me that I had a rare kind of patience and understanding of the circumstances under which they as doctors work. “Some people will get angry and shout, but you, you are very patient” she said in a typical Rwandan accent.
Since that day I hold this to be true. The hospital is a portal between worlds; between our world and the world beyond, between life and death, a portal between the life you knew and one in which you may never be the same again. It is a life port for our arrival and departure from earth. Not all of us entered earth through it. But it has been the official channel for a long time. We get documented right there on arrival and on departure. On that fateful day of arrival, those famous words are uttered with joy — “Time of birth….” Perhaps we should start saying “Time of arrival.” And at the end of one’s stay, instead of saying “Time of death” why not “Time of departure” for that is what it is.
One day you will find yourself at a hospital. Whatever your reason for being there, know that you are on sacred ground. Walk it with reverence — reverence for life and death. Have reverence for death because you have reverence for life. Without life there is no death. Without death there is no life. Death makes life precious. It gives life its unmatched value. And when your day of departure finally comes, I hope by then you would have appreciated your stay here. You would have lived a worthwhile and full life. And I wish you a safe passage to the world beyond because to get caught up in the world in between is the quintessence of being lost forever.