One of the most multi-cultural places I have been in London is the hospital. It may seem an unlikely place for a crossroads for diversity, but for most people the event of going to the hospital is a rare occasion when desire is replaced by need.
Whatever the pitfalls are of the NHS (the free, national health service offered to all UK residents), the three remarkable benefits that have left an impression on me (coming from a country driven primarily by privatised healthcare) are: a. The inclusiveness of all residents within the UK b. The idea that medical care is free and allocated by need c. Because of point b, emergencies and high-risk situations are prioritised and given the most attention and highest quality resources
No institution is perfect and the NHS is certainly not without its flaws, but every time I am admitted to the hospital, I enter a ward with a huge variety of extremely ill patients from all walks of life. Somehow, the team of doctors, nurses and support staff manage to communicate with the patient, even those speaking the most remedial english. Interpreters of all languages are a phone call away. Given the nature of the ward I know best, the liver and gastroenterology ward, the wide range of in-patients can be so unwell they are unable to care for themselves, sometimes mentally confused and suffering from enormous pain. Despite this, the staff are able to maintain a level of sanity and peace.
This past week I was in a room with an elderly woman who has spent the past 60 years in and out of hospital with Crohn’s disease. The hospital chaplain came to visit daily and the two spent a solid hour reciting traditional Christian prayer. In the bed across from her was woman who entered the hospital in full burka. With her husband and son by her side from morning to night, they spent hours chanting prayers to Allah. Sometimes the Christian prayer and Islamic chanting happened simultaneously.
While I’m not affiliated with an organised religion, I do have faith in a supreme source of love, and the interconnectedness of all beings. During these prayer sessions in the hospital room I felt very nurtured and supported, and somewhat in awe of the other patients’ surrender and devotion to their unique faiths.
Whether you believe in God, Jesus, Allah, the Buddha, Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva, in times of great suffering we face the ultimate fear of self-doubt. Our limitation as human beings means that we are all going to die. Having faith that we are part of something far greater than our human form is not just comforting, it gives us the strength to continue even in our transience.
At the intersection of diversity is a merging of ideas, faiths and the greatest of human potential; we are all given the same divine potential for love and faith. It may not always be apparent on the streets of London, but when in doubt, visit your local hospital and spend an afternoon as a volunteer. You won’t be let down and may even feel more alive than ever.