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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Reading nature

Early morning, pre-dawn dimness, the flutter of fruit bats with their
paper-thin wings and ominous swoops, returning to roost in the royal
palms, darting under the eaves and through the trees. I stand in the
yard and look up as one of the bats erupts in shrieking. An eagle
hawk grabs an oblong bundle of bat, holding it in his talons as he
flies low and powerful between the trees, confident, conquering.
Since ebola, it is hard not to see bats as evil, harbingers of
infection and rustlers in the dark. In our prayer times this week
we've been focusing on the fact that the unseen reality trumps the
visible problems . . . So as I stood watching this improbable scene, I
thought of angels, swooping down with precision timing and selection
to protect us from a particular crisis. Outnumbered but still
individually strong, pulling one problem out of our way, but not
eliminating the swarm of evil. Yet.

Later, the hospital is abuzz with the events of the night. Scott is
told by the staff that a rather prominent business man, a trader on
cocoa, who lived nearby, died. How? He was relieving himself outside
in the night when he was attacked by a snake and bitten SEVEN TIMES.
In painful places. People told us with assurance that the snake even
followed the man onto the hospital ward. I suppose it is reasonable
to assume it could have been gathered up in his sheets or clothes as
it tried to escape while his collapsed form was being transferred to
care? But the idea of a snake that stayed around long enough to
strike that many times, had enough venom to kill a grown man within
the hour, and appeared even on the hospital ward, is rather grim. A
tangible enemy, to be sure, unlike the subtle viruses, mutated genes,
or creeping fungi that attack most of my patients. I came home
forgetting the small victories (a preemie reaching 2 kg thanks to his
mother's skin-to-skin incubating care, and going home; a stick-figure
little sickle cell patient now smiling, naked except for her stuffed
giraffe tied to her back, having climbed from the ditch of
malnutrition to resume her march along the road to health) . . . in
the tragic arrival of a primary-school age child who presented with a
massive brain tumor growing out of her nose, her blind eyes swollen
shut, beginning to have trouble breathing, her disease having
progressed months untreated and now nothing more to do than palliate.

I am reminded, as I am many days, of the apt watch-phrase: "How goes
the world?" "The world goes not well, but the Kingdom comes." We
could use a few swoops of the hawk.

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