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A moment's carelessness on a wet lakeside dock, a tumble and there was a broken wrist. After an X-ray it was found I would need a general anaesthetic, so I had to do all the things that line one up for the operation table.

It was a very busy day in surgery, especially for orthopedics, so half an hour or so rolled by before the gurney came and I was slid on to it to begin that peculiarly passive journey that most of us have taken at some time or other. One watches the ceiling go by, blinking under the bright lights, bumping slightly now and then over thresholds, sometimes faces float by. A momentary stop and we enter an elevator and finally we are in the very different atmosphere of the surgery area. 

I want to mention only a particular short period that had significance for me. It arose from something quite fortuitous. Thinking that the surgeon was ready for us, the nurse did this and that and wheeled me into to the theatre itself. She then placed little patches that linked me with the electrocardiogram, then left.

As it turned out the surgeon was delayed in an emergency. After about fifteen minutes of what began as silence and stillness, the waiting began to become occupied by small sounds. I decided to try to give myself to it, to receive it, if you will, as a gift. First there was only the thin high tone of the electrocardiogram delineating my own heartbeat. The sound seemed to come from behind me. Gradually I began to notice the slight noises of the operating room. Then I found myself becoming aware of the life of the hospital itself, beating and stirring and murmering like a great heart itself, filled with  joy and anxiety, sleep and restlessness, pain, fear, hope and loving care, what Wordsworth once called "the still sad music of humanity".

As the moments of seeming silence passed by, they became deeper and deeper, richer and richer, until I recalled a symbol everywhere in the Ireland of my childhood, known again in my adult life as the dominant image in the spirituality of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin - the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus beating eternally at the heart of the universe.