the place of mercy

Sharon Rose Christner via Alan Jacobs:

This place, when the sun goes down, becomes the ancient version of its names. Clinico was once clinicus, sometimes meaning the bedridden one, sometimes the one tending the bed, derived from words for bed and stretching out. In English, too, clinic follows this path back to lying down. Ospedale was once hospitālis, “hospice, shelter, guesthouse,” from hospes (host, guest, stranger). English’s own hospital, from those same roots, first arrived in the 1300s as “a house or hostel for the reception and entertainment of pilgrims, travellers, and strangers” (Oxford English Dictionary). In the 1400s it grew to mean “a charitable institution for the housing and maintenance of the needy,” and only after this did it take on its medical connotation.

Always, these places have first meant a bed, a place to lie down at night. Long before fluorescent wards with tile floors, before anesthetic and billing and patient privacy and disinfectant, long before the concept of a germ, these places have meant refuge from the elements, and the uneasy navigations of host and guest and stranger. …

No, it is not ideal. Surely the best place for people to sleep is not the hospital floor, and surely their presence is not the best imaginable thing for the hospital. But mercy has never arisen from an ideal situation – it grows as a garden at the end of this long maze of non-ideals.

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