An American Gospel


"It’s about will."

He told me this after it happened. With an addendum a few seconds later.

“And action, of course. Without action, will is meaningless.”

He didn’t say this immediately after. He told me this outside the room, in a teaching tone, mentor to student, like it was some fact of the universe very few knew. And I wondered exactly to what He was referring. 

The hall was hot and dry. And smelled of stale urine. The only other person who could have heard Him was Hattie. She sat next to the wall, one of her hands hooked over the handrail, her thin legs pulled in, crippled, her other hand gripping a soft, cotton handle made just for people with awful arthritis. She looked stiffly brittle in her hospital gown, and like a wrinkled child, too small for her wheelchair.

I simply stared at Him in silence. He grabbed the carpet scrubber, which was parked right by the door to Albert’s room and wheeled it down the hall, singing, “I can see clear-ly now the rain is gone, boom chk, boom chk-a, boom chk, boom-chk, I can see all obstacles in my way, boom chk, boom chk-a . . .” And on past the nurse’s station, up the main hall toward the north wing. He hit notes, His voice was okay, He wasn’t great, but He wasn’t bad either. And as He passed Vera, one of the residents walking in her walker, she smiled at Him.

It was New Year’s Eve, the middle of the day, but the window on the fire door at the end of the hall was darkened, ice around the exterior edges, spotted by hazy frost, heavy snow falling fast outside. The dismal, cold images were counterweighted by the sparkling green and red and metallic garland that framed it, and the cardboard cutout Santa Claus that hung beneath it.

I thought about Albert Hansfeld, Santa’s beard bringing me back to him. How I had prepared myself. How I had known. How I had seen all the signs from my experiences here at the nursing home. Hell, the only thing he was missing were the death rattles. I thought they were next. But I was wrong.

He intervened. At least that’s what it seemed like. I hadn’t bought in yet.

But I couldn’t deny what I had just perceived.