The chapel hasn’t changed much since its last refurbishment. Since my first visit to give thanks in 2009, for surviving the worst and longest of my hospital admissions.
Usually a quiet spot, quiet enough to hear the hopeful weight of a thousand prayers, today there were two gentlemen on their mobile phones, one in heated exchange with his caller. Three Muslims observed their afternoon namaaz and one man walked straight up to the altar, and communed with his rosary. Is a Buddhist noticeable in prayer? If a Buddhist were to perform prostrations, they would appear no different to a Muslim. A Christian counting rosary beads appears no different to a Hindu with his mala.
There were no women in the chapel today. Normally that would give me pause, but I wanted to sit somewhere and think about my friend Dr Hong Phuoc Ho. We were always in dialogue from the moment we met in late 2005... we were forced into a sort of silence by the ferocity of his last years with Parkinson’s. And even with the profound physical challenges it brought to his muscle control, Dr Ho still sang a few lyrics when Dad commanded him to this summer, and during our last call, he tried to tell me he had dreamed of me ... but the details I will never know.
When the news came on Wednesday night, a heavy stone landed on my heart. Grief can be instantly physical. I cried and cried. The next morning I dreamed of rocks falling, threatening to crush the person below. To crush me. Dr Ho had suffered in the prison of his body, and in the prison of his memories of the Vietnam war; in the dream I was afraid of the damage those rocks could inflict, but there was no pain. And I woke up.
What I do have to hold are all the memories of sixteen years - and the hopeful joy of a friend appearing suddenly in the middle of your life, to challenge and to enhance, to delight and engage the deepest and truest parts of our lives.
Being in Addenbrooke’s the day after his passing in that very hospital allowed me not only time in the chapel, but also communion with the art on the corridor walls - this is one of the coolest images and will now remind me of Dr Ho - fierce and playful, suffering and equal to the task.