By Saundra Shanti, Chaplain at University of Utah Hospital

I pulled the push-pin out of the paster wall in my office and took down my 2020 multi-faith calendar. As part reflection, part act of aggression, I cut it apart. How could I collage these images, shapes and numbers to represent my own experience? I work on the Covid ICU at the University of Utah Hospital. Usually I only enter rooms of Covid-positive patients when they are at end of life, need a religious ritual, or when they are especially melancholy and the staff feel they need in-person attention. Sometimes I facilitate virtual family connections on my hospital-issued Ipad. Most of my patients are on ventilators and too sick to speak to me anyway. Much of my spiritual care in 2020 shifted to tele-chaplaincy, which means I call the families who are prohibited from visiting their loved ones. I listen to their stories and receive their fears, concerns, and tears over the phone. I tell them that I look in on their beloved relatives. I say things like, “He is sitting in a chair and waving to me.” “I see she is prone today, resting her lungs.” “Yes, I will stand at the window and pray.” Of course, the mothers and spouses and brothers are praying too, in their own expression of what it means to ask, hope, and wait.

The figures I cut and pasted into my piece all seem to me to be praying. Two women hold onto babies. Everyone who dies of Covid has a mother who was pressed to let go. A man under the tree extends his hands upward, perhaps open to receive healing. I collaged myself, donned in PPE, among the praying people. A blue plastic gown, gloves, and a battery-operated air pack become my priestly garments. (They suit me much better than a black and white clerical collar!) I prefer a stole of flowers or greening leaves to symbolize our common human emergence from dust and stars, as well as the life-giving work of Spirit.
Lastly, I added numbers to connote the passage of time. Covid patients often stay for weeks in the ICU. I cut a flower or leaf to hold each number, marking each day of life as precious. Many, but not all, religious practices are named in the art. The differences give way to unity. Just as Covid is no respecter of persons and afflicts us all, we are all part of the human collage that must care for one another.