Thursday, August 01, 2019


I spent Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday nights in a hospital bed. One of the great ironies of hanging out in such a place is that well-intentioned people routinely tell you to get rested up, and wish you a good night's sleep. I can tell you with some degree of certainty that one thing that you will NOT be doing in such a setting is getting rested up or sleeping. This is because you are wired; not from caffeine or some other stimulant, but because you are literally wired from head to foot. You have wires that are connected to beeping, well-lit machines, and they are dangling from virtually every part of your body, and any movement would entail a near-balletic coordination of medical personnel who would be required to assist in turning you from, say, your left side to your right side.

Resting and sleeping were right out. Not gonna happen. It was just as well because every hour or so someone would cheerfully wander in, ask me how my rest was going, and poke me with a needle or attach another wire or two to my body. So sleeping was not really a part of my agenda. Instead, I watched, thought, listened and prayed. I listened to the loudspeaker, which routinely squawked out things like "Code Blue, Room 417." I listened to a woman down the hall from me crying. I prayed for the people involved. I thought about my stomach, which hurt like hell, even after the pain medications, and I thought about my overall health, which has not been good of late. I thought about my mortality, which is something I've been doing on pretty much an hourly basis since I was about four years old, but which has occupied even more of my thinking recently. Visits from EMTs at work and hanging out in emergency rooms will do that to you. And I prayed about that as well.

I didn't really think I was going to die. I have a morbid streak that can find the gloomy and the depressing in the sunniest, most placid day at the beach, but in this case, I didn't honestly think I was going to die. So although I was worried and uneasy, I mostly prayed for other people. And while that was going on early Tuesday morning at 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., whatever it was, God showed up. How do I know it was God? I just know. This is a maddening thing to atheists and doubters, I'm sure, but I just know. One way I know is that I experience a profound sense of peace and the sure knowledge that I am deeply loved in the midst of excruciating stomach pain, worry, uncertainty and fear. I don't know why this happens. I can't program it or schedule it or turn it into a formula (I've tried), and I have no idea when it's going to happen, but I've experienced it enough times to know that it's very real. That, more than any doctrine or belief, is why I'm a Christian. I should also note that there have been plenty of times when I've desperately wanted it to happen, when I've essentially communicated to God, "You know, now would be a great time," and it hasn't happened. So I have nothing to tell you other than sometimes it happens, and it's a wondrous life- and faith-sustaining time when it does. I'll also tell you that it's a great mystery. And Tuesday early morning it happened. It filled me with hope.

Later that morning, after the sun had come up but before my surgery, a woman and a man in red vests and wearing Volunteer badges stopped by my hospital room and asked to pray for me. I told them that I'd welcome their prayers. So they prayed, and they were kind of loud and showy and demonstrative, flailing their arms around and petitioning for my health, as if God would hear them better if they did a little song and dance. When they finished, they asked if I felt better after they prayed. I told them that I had felt okay before they prayed and that I felt okay after they prayed. Which was true. I thanked them anyway. I'll take whatever prayers I can get. Then the nurses prepped me for surgery, and off I went.

My Christian faith has changed a lot over the years. A lot of the cultural stuff has dropped away, and I don't miss it. Every week I read about some new book that bemoans the current antagonistic cultural climate, and which makes the Rodney King "Why can't we all just get along?" argument, but in more explicitly Christian terms, as if some superficial show of unity would excuse the blatantly anti-Christian beliefs and behaviors that animate large swaths of the American Christian landscape. On a more personal level, anger and disbelief are being supplanted by a deep sadness. I believe in the Christian Church. I believe in Christians as individuals. But in 2019, in this particular cultural setting, I do not believe in Christians en masse, and I simply can't and won't accept that it has to be this way. If I didn't love the Christian Church, I simply wouldn't care.

For the red-vested theatrical tag team, for the crying woman down the hall from me, for me, for everybody alone in a hospital bed, wired by technology or wired because of fear and panic, I pray that God will show up. Life is hard; tragedy is the real hard currency of the realm. But I live in hope. I hold on to the certainty that Code Blue is not the end, that love wins, and I look forward in anticipation, the fever-dream that is more real than life itself, to the time when nobody's crying.

I still have this secret hope
Sometimes all I do is cope
Somewhere on the steepest slope
There'll be an endless rope
And nobody's crying

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