Room 904:
My 82-Year-Old
Brokenness, and
the Gospel

By: Crystal Chen

Sometimes God uses unexpected circumstances and even  unexpected people to teach us the beauty, grace, and strength of the gospel.     

In January 2012, I found myself sharing a hospital room with Ms. Rosenberg, my 82-year-old roommate. The stay was unexpected, a seemingly frustrating hurdle when I was just about to get back into the swing of things as a first year doctoral student. Instead of embarking on new courses, I was confined to Room 904 in the middle of Manhattan, a few miles away from where I was supposed to be, but physically, emotionally and spiritually, worlds apart.

When I first met Ms. Rosenberg, I had already been confined for three days. As a New Yorker, the idea of losing 72 hours seemed like a great loss—a gross waste in productivity.  A thin curtain separated her half of the room from mine, and every one of our medical histories could be heard in great detail; it was as if we all had assumed that the thin curtain was ironclad, and what was heard was never heard, and what was unseen could not be imagined.  

It occurred to me that a hospital is one of the only places in the world where we must share intimate details with a complete stranger. Health is indeed the great equalizer; illness has no prejudice—it attacks the white philanthropist, the Korean mother, the African-American investment banker, and on this day in January, the retired Ms. Rosenberg and me, an Asian-American graduate student in her mid-20s. Neither good works, exercise nor healthy eating could guarantee or redeem the brokenness of our bodies.

One night, I decided to venture past the thin curtain and knock on Ms. Rosenberg’s wall, a seemingly odd gesture, to ask if I could come into her new “private residence.” On my visit, Ms. Rosenberg inquired about my life story. Through conversation, I quickly found myself confronted with my profession outside of Room 904. I was immediately reminded that I was missing a week of spring semester classes and I wondered how I would be able to catch up on all the 72 hours of missed work. Although the hospital walls mirrored my feelings of imprisonment, it also provided a safe space for me to hide my graduate student identity—one that I did not want to confront at the moment.

As I told my story, I found that Ms. Rosenberg held no judgment towards me in my academic endeavors or failures, nor did she inquire. We began to talk about my love for literature and teaching. As I shared my teaching experiences, Ms. Rosenberg said quietly, “I was never a good reader…but I like to read.” Her words on reading dug deep. Too often, teachers mix successes and failures with the desire to learn, and Ms. Rosenberg’s memories of her schooling abilities led me to reevaluate my own notions as a former classroom teacher---good works that still were left broken.

As I sat there in the same gown as Ms. Rosenberg, I was astounded that we were talking about the brokenness in education, while faintly acknowledging that we were roommates because our bodies were wrestling with our immediate physical brokenness.  In this acknowledgement, the Lord reminded me that though our city may be broken and our bodies may be fatigued, Christ has redeemed our inner brokenness and restored us to be with Him. This is the good news -- in Him, we have hope. As Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “it is only by grace that we have been saved, through faith, and not from ourselves; it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.”  Ms. Rosenberg’s words reminded me that parts of the human experience—in sickness, in health, in teaching, and in learning--are perhaps most illuminated when shared among humans. And in our daily work, we can only have hope that above all, Christ has redeemed.

Therefore, though our city needs renewal, and our education system needs more cultivation, we look forward to the day when original order will be restored. We look forward to a day when we will never return to a place like Room 904--where our physical bodies may be made anew; our systems are fully redeemed, and where His kingdom shall reign forever. “For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of them that believe.” (1 Timothy 4:10).

A former English teacher, Crystal Chen is a doctoral candidate and research fellow at Columbia University’s Teachers College where she studies literacy, immigrant girls, and urban/multicultural education.