Commentary - Robert Darden "America’s Nurses Could Use Some Mercy Now"
Robert Darden is host of the weekly SHOUT! Black Gospel Music Moments on KWBU. He is also a master teacher and professor of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University.
Following a recent hospital stay Darden wrote a short essay that was published in the Dallas Morning News. Here he is, in his own words with this commentary.
Nurses see us at our worst, and they still accept us unconditionally into their care.
I have spent my professional career researching and writing about the spirituals, gospel songs and freedom songs of the African American experience. They also provide much of the soundtrack of my life.
But two weeks ago, when I found myself in a crowded Waco hospital undergoing knee replacement surgery, it wasn’t a classic spiritual that sustained me. It was Mary Gauthier’s “Mercy Now.” “Mercy Now” was hailed as an instant classic upon its release in 2005, a simple, haunting plea that sounds older than the oldest spirituals, like it was somehow summoned from divine ether rather than composed in the vulgar present.
My father could use a little mercy now
The fruits of his labor fall and rot slowly on the ground
His work is almost over it won’t be long, he won’t be around
I love my father, he could use some mercy now
Like most American hospitals, Waco’s Ascension Providence could use a little mercy now. I was told that the hospital was completely full, mostly with suffering COVID-19 patients, and had only
a handful of ICU beds available. The extraordinary staff, aides, techs, physical therapists, nurses and doctors have been operating at maximum capacity since March. They looked exhausted, hollow-eyed, their own natural deep wells of compassion severely depleted by the ravenous demands this pandemic has made on them both at home and at work.
Amazingly, the nurses managed a willing, pleasant spirit, even in the face of long graveyard shifts. I could hear every summoning bell on the long, dark hallway repeatedly chirp and ring. For three nights, the old gentleman across the hall woke and raved, clawed at the IVs, threw himself from bed, and ranted that faces peered in from his fourth-floor windows. Time and time and time again, the nurses and aides took a deep breath and walked into the flailing chaos, speaking soothing words designed to calm and reassure a lonely, obstinate, pain-wracked old man.
My brother could use a little mercy now
He’s a stranger to freedom, he’s shackled to his fear and his doubt
The pain that he lives in it’s almost more than living will allow
I love my brother, he could use some mercy now
In those rare moments when the nurses stole a second to smile or reassure me, usually while waiting for my own IV drip to resume, we talked. Like America’s other first responders, the police, the firefighters, the public school teachers, the social workers, the waiters and all of the other modern-day warriors and heroes, these nurses talked of their own frustrations, fears and dreams.
And this is what I learned. They talked about the masks. The PPE masks. The humble paper and cloth creations that had — somehow — been transformed into the linchpin of a brutal cultural civil war. I don’t know (and didn’t ask) their political leanings. I don’t know what they thought beyond this single
issue. But in every single case, in every single case, these nurses pleaded for those in their care to wear their masks.
My church and my country could use a little mercy now
As they sink into a poisoned pit it’s going to take forever to climb out
They carry the weight of the faithful who follow them down
I love my church and country, they could use some mercy now
I’m home now, recovering, thanks to the often herculean efforts on my behalf by these nurses. And I feel morally compelled to repeat what I have heard and seen.
If you don’t believe politicians, believe nurses. If you don’t believe scientists, believe nurses. If you don’t believe the media, teachers, doctors and medical associations, or even folk wisdom, then believe nurses. Nurses need a little mercy now.
The nurse has nothing to gain by misleading you. Our nurses have been at the front lines from day one. They’ve seen us at our worst, puking, screaming, defecating, whining, threatening, bullying, bleeding and they still accept us unconditionally into their care.
God bless our physicians, but it is the nurse who dresses the wound, cleans the catheter, administers the pill, holds the frightened hand of the child in surgery. The nurse whose sacred duty is to place flesh on flesh to heal. Nurses need a little mercy now.
Nikki, Makala, Tyler, Tamie and a million million more need a little mercy now.
In the year 2020, mercy is a mask.
If you won’t wear one for them, then for whom?
Yeah, we all could use a little mercy now
I know we don’t deserve it but we need it anyhow
We hang in the balance dangling ‘tween hell and hallowed ground
And every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Every single one of us could use some mercy now
Robert F. Darden is a master teacher and professor of Journalism, Public Relations & New Media at Baylor University. He is the author of more than two dozen books, including “Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume 1: Black Sacred Music from the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement” and “Nothing But Love in God’s Water, Volume II: Black Sacred Music from Sit-Ins to Resurrection City.” He wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.
Robert F. Darden