Hospital of the Queen's Heart by Ileana, Princess of Romania
Five years have passed and gone since I last crossed the threshold of the beloved hospital, since Rosa wept desperately in my arms, and I bade my wounded soldiers good-bye; since Lucy and John and Puscariu and the others pressed my hand for the last time. The years have passed with their seasons, nature has blossomed forth into spring, has ripened through summer and fall, and lain dormant in the winter. Over and over again the forest has turned green, and then golden and russet; the hay has been gay with field flowers, the wild pinks on the castle rock have wafted their perfume into the mountain air, but I have not seen it except with my mind's eye.
I have wandered far over the earth's surface, west, south and north; many thousands of miles of land and water lie between me and that small group which knelt together in the hospital waiting room and prayed under the icon and its vigil light that winter evening.
What has become of them all? I know nothing. The impenetrable Iron Curtain hangs between us, severing us—for how long? Who can tell? For always, or perhaps for only a short span of time.
The chill that surrounded my aching heart that night froze my whole being for many empty and dreary months. For a long time I looked upon the world with dead eyes. It seemed that my life's work lay behind me, wiped out. Of necessity, I went through the motions of living, I fought the battle for the survival of my family. The discipline that had kept me on the job through the fatigue of the old days kept me at it through the numbness of the present.
I learned, in time, that the hospital was not closed when I left, that it is still functioning and serving the people of Bran and the countryside. I have been told that my mother's heart still lies in the fastness of the Carpathian rock, although the Communists have walled up the little chapel with a great heap of stones.
Of all that little group of hospital workers only Badillo and I are free. He left Romania with me and my family, and now he is practicing medicine in Austria. As I have said elsewhere, he married Gretl, my children's Austrian nurse, and they have two children of their own. He brought something fine and precious out of the forsaken downtrodden East into the freer West—the Bran way of life survives through him.
As for me, my freedom seemed a sad and empty possession at first, because I could not share it with those dear ones I had left behind. My mind often dwelt upon them—perhaps they had not left Bran. Perhaps they were still at the hospital, alas! no longer called Spitalul Inima Reginei. Perhaps they still looked upon those mountains that I know so well, which have not changed in a thousand years and will not change, and perhaps they remembered me and the days we lived and worked together. And today, still I wonder about them. Do they go on living there, making the best of life, such as it is? Can I do less than they? I would be ashamed if I failed to live up to their faith in me.
In these pages I have sought to make them known, to bring their personalities into the freedom I enjoy by recreating our life together and making them known to you. Since they have to be silent, I have become their voice. For I have come to understand that we all belong to each other, and, that even if we are not conscious of it, we share one life since God is life and there is only one God. The oppressed and the oppressor, the free and the bond, are one in the wholeness of life, just as I realized so blindingly in the operating theater at Cluj.
We are never really alone or separated from the humanity to which we all belong. A few bonds are stronger, clearer, because of a shared way of life. But that known and shared way is only one of life's many expressions, and the more we enter others' lives the fuller become our own; the broader our horizons, the deeper our understanding and our own contentment. Inevitably each man sees himself as the center of the universe; he can comprehend only through his own senses and his own experience. It is with his eyes that he sees, with his ears that he hears, but it is with his heart that he understands. Only through compassionate understanding of others, a breaking down of the walls of self and self-interest, is freedom possible. One finds oneself when one loses oneself, and only then.
It was this dawning of understanding and my gradual refocusing upon other people that finally began to thaw my icebound heart. I began to take less thought of my own grief and lostness, and to think more of those left behind, my friends, co-workers, countrymen and loved ones. Seeking for a way to make manifest their lives, I found contact again with other people and ways of life other than my own.
I began to search my heart for something still abiding, still vital, which would reunite me with the past that I loved so much, yet would be no shackle in this new life of mine.
If it were true that we of Spitalul Inima Reginei still belonged together—and I knew it was—what one thing, part of my everyday life, now as then, was equally theirs? What had we all never ceased doing, day after each day of our separation, which we had done together before?
Painstakingly, I retraced my steps back over the years to that last evening, and memory came to a standstill in the silent, darkened waiting room in the hospital, below the icon with its vigil light. I was on my knees with the others.
"Our Father which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy name."
And then I knew. I had heard the words, I had said them wherever I had wandered, west, south and north, and I knew that day after day, they, too, have said the same words, prayed the same prayer.
"Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth. . . ."
The vigil light is forbidden, there in Spitalul Inima Reginei. It has long since been put out and the icon taken down. But in its stead I have lit one here in my New England home, in a chapel I have made in our house. An icon of Jesus and His mother hangs on the whitewashed wall, just as it did at home. Here in this free country the vigil light on the altar burns steadily night and day, throwing caressing fingers of light upon the suffering, dignified figure on a crucifix which hangs above it, against dark red curtains.
I kneel before it. It is another evening. The children will be home soon from school and play, for their suppers. The thick, quiet shadows have gathered here, as they had done that last evening in Bran. The light flickers and sways, here as it did there. Outside, there is the same heavy, winter silence that there was in Bran that night, although thousands of miles and a lifetime lie between.
"Forgive us our
trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. . . .
I bow my head to my clasped hands on the prie dieu with a grateful swelling heart, for I know that I have found the focal point I have searched for. The Lord's Prayer is the one thing that still belongs to us all, on either side of the Iron Curtain, and I know that in reality there has been no break, there has only seemed to be. We are still together.
My mind leaps over the past. Pictures take form, blur, and refocus. Now I see clearly, beneath the tumultuous surface of those years, what was real in the life I lived then. I remember the old peasant woman on the hillside, who spoke wisdom to me one warm spring evening. She said that I was young and could not understand. But now I understand—am I old at last? Was it in the past? No, her wisdom is now.
I know that as I walked palace halls and the wards of that small hospital in my own land I learned both the shortness and the limitlessness of time and the close-knit unity of the human race. Assisting at birth and death, at recovery and failure, I learned to recognize the presence of God. Having faced death and earthly partings, the severance of all I held most dear, the dissolution of all I had given my life to build, I know that nothing is ever lost, and that failure is often triumph in other guise.
All this that I learned then, I understand today, and I shall live by it tomorrow. . . .