George is a doctor I very much admire. One thing George does that not many doctors do is to visit cancer patients in their homes. George has taught me a lot about being with people through pain, and facing fear.
George said, ‘I’m going to tell you about the worst and the best moments I’ve had in the home of a person with cancer. I was with a woman who was very sad, and couldn’t find a lot of words. I usually just listen, but there was a lot of silence, so I started looking around the living room. My eyes settled on the picture of a beautiful woman.
‘So I said, “You know, that’s an amazing photograph. You have a beautiful daughter.” The woman said nothing, but stared at me for a while. After what must have been a couple of minutes, but felt like a couple of hours, she said, “That’s a photograph of me, six months ago.”‘
I asked George, ‘What on earth did you say then?’ He replied, ‘I was silent for a long time, and then I looked back at her, and held her gaze, and just said, “I’m sorry.”‘
I think I’ve tried to base my whole ministry on the way he said ‘I’m sorry.’ Sorry can be the easiest word – when a tennis player hits a shot that clips the net, it’s customary to raise a hand and apologise for the advantage gained. We do the same in a car if we’ve cut in on another driver. But there’s a way to say sorry that’s quite different. We can look into someone’s eye, and either recognise the hurt we’ve caused, or share the pain they’re in. That’s the way the Holy Spirit says sorry. We can do it too.
Revd Sam Wells