I was standing in a line at the hospital reception desk recently when I decided to start imagining.
It started innocently enough. As I was standing there watching the receptionist mechanically dispensing room numbers, I found myself imagining getting to the front of the line and hearing her say, “Oh, I’m sorry, sir, there’s been a mistake. The man you’re looking for isn’t here! He was discharged yesterday. He’s perfectly healthy, you see. He’s been made well, and he won’t be coming back here soon. You should have seen him when he left—he was beaming!” That’s what I imagined as I was waiting in line.
Alas, she didn’t say any of that. What she in fact said was, “Room 419.”
But I was undeterred. I went upstairs, and I kept right on imagining.
When I saw this dear old saint struggling to get into bed after going for x-rays, I imagined strong legs and blotch-free skin. I imagined a broad smile and beaming eyes in place of the resignation, exhaustion, and pain that were written all over the face before me. I imagined joy where I saw suffering. When he spoke of how he loved his wife and how painful it was for him to see her die, I imagined the two of them sitting right in front of me. I imagined them holding hands and laughing. When he looked out the window and asked me how the weather was, I imagined him strolling around on a gorgeous, colourful, sunny fall day. I imagined him sitting on a park bench, reading a book, or telling his grandkids a story. After I had prayed and said goodbye, I imagined never finding him in a dingy little hospital room with too many occupants and not enough bathrooms again.
I walked to the elevator and I kept right on shamelessly imagining. I looked at the aboriginal man standing by the elevator with the beat up face and the stringy hair and the knobby knees poking below his hospital gown. I watched him clumsily and angrily fish around in his pockets for a cigarette and I imagined him into a different world. I imagined a world where the weight of personal and corporate history did not weigh so heavily against him and his people. I imagined a past and a future free from the toxin of racism. I imagined a body that didn’t bear the scars of a lifetime of struggles and addictions and countless mistreatments. I saw a man full to the brim with health and strength and hope. It was beautiful.
I continued my imagining when I left the hospital (I couldn’t stop now, I was on a roll!). I thought about a teenage boy I had recently spoken with who had been picked on at school. I imagined other boys and girls speaking words of welcome and acceptance to him, overlooking his eccentricities and faults rather than mocking and ignoring him. I imagined a world where there was only kindness—where children and all the rest of us truly understood the power of this simple gift, where forgiveness and grace were as easy and reflexive as rejection and revenge.
I went to pick up a few things at the store and I imagined that the shy, overweight young girl that listlessly ran my items across the scanner had found meaningful, dignifying work somewhere far away from this concrete warehouse where she has to constantly stare at magazine covers full of airbrushed models engineered to inflame male desire and set yet another impossible ideal before women. I imagined her confident, proud, strong, and full of joy. I imagined a world where we valued people for the right reasons.
I imagined a world where the ones accustomed only to losing finally got a taste of winning.
It was fun, all this imagining.
About two thousand years ago, on a little island called Patmos in the Aegean Sea, a weary old man who had seen a lot of pain wrote these famous words:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… I saw the Holy City coming down out of heaven from God… I heard a voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
I saw. I heard. The old order of things has passed away.
Before I left the hospital today, this dear old saint looked at me and said, “This getting old is no fun. But I guess this is just the way things go.”
I thought of all my day’s imaginings. I thought of all of the seeing and hearing in the book of Revelation. I thought of how all my imaginings were somehow connected to all of John’s seeing and hearing. And, perhaps most importantly, that the imagining and the seeing and the hearing open the door to new ways of doing and being in the world. I thanked God that because of the imagining and the seeing and the hearing, that even though this is the way things go, this is actually not the way things go at all.