And they brought young children to Him, that He should touch them… and [Jesus] said unto them, Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not : for such is the kingdom of God.~Mark 10:13-14, KJV
It was my first night volunteering in the neonatal intensive care unit. It was quiet, in spite of the bustle of activity. As I walked toward the charge nurse, announcing that I was the new “cuddler” assigned to the Saturday night shift to help soothe any of the babies who needed holding, a look of relief washed over her face. She grabbed my arm and quickly took me to the bedside of a beautiful baby girl.
“You are just in time,” the nurse said to me. “This is Sydney. She has been shaking and crying all evening without any respite. Put on a gown and hold her if you like; maybe you can help her calm down.”
As I did so, the nurse began to explain Sydney’s medical condition. At first glance, I was puzzled because she looked healthy and full term. She had been lying in a crib, unlike the other premature newborns beside her–some in incubators and some on ventilators. But the nurse told me that Sydney, born to a mother addicted to heroin, was now experiencing extreme withdrawals in spite of the slow detoxification process. I was shocked that the nurses actually had to administer methadone in order to safely wean Sydney from the drugs. The nurse then told me that the mother rarely came in to see her. This sweet, precious angel was alone and in agony.
As I picked her up, gently swaddled her, and rocked her in my arms, tears streamed down my face. I sat in the chair and I held her tightly to stop the shaking. My heart raced with prayers, and upon instinct I began to softly sing the song “Amazing Grace.” The sound of my voice soothed her and her cries subsided. She wrapped her little hand around my finger tightly and would not let go. Every time I whispered her name, her eyes fluttered and she looked up at me. I sat with her for my entire shift, letting her rest within my arms.
This routine went on for a few weeks. Every time I arrived for my shift, I was happy to see “my girl”, and the nurses were happy to see me.
I realized that although I have not become a physician and am unable to help in the medical capacities that I so deeply desire, I am still a healer. The simplicity of human touch, warmth, and closeness provides comfort and wholeness. My prayers for this precious child of God and the soothing melodies that I sang over her may do more than I might have initially expected for her healing, growth, and overall well-being.
Several weeks later, I saw Sydney’s mother come onto the unit, and everything within me wanted to be angry and questioning. Instead, I greeted her with a warm smile; and as I watched her pick up her baby girl, my heart felt with compassion and any judgement melted away into empathy and hope.
Through this experience, I learned never to underestimate the power of a gentle touch, as well as the effect of time spent simply being with another. And, regardless of how unforgiveable someone’s decisions or actions may seem, they too are human–with the same basic needs of love, forgiveness and care.
Sydney taught me how to love without words.
-Narges L. Horriat is a 2011 graduate of Azusa Pacific University.