I have an email to quote first. The sender is real. I’m leaving the email address in.
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From: morningwood2010 [at] hushmail [dot] com
Subject: Religion + Jeff
From Jeff’s blog: “I am so incredibly sick of religious extremist
I was not able to read anything about Jeff’s “life-threatening”
accident so I cannot comment about it.
However, I AM curious if anyone *prayed* for Jeff to survive his
“life-threatening” accident and for his recovery, and whether or
not Jeff acknowledged and was thankful for those prayers to God.
Though I do not know Jeff personally, and though I disagree with
his use of “god” not being capitalized, I, as a Christian, will
pray for him.
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I figure by responding publicly, I’ll respond more politely.
First, thanks for writing. Since you don’t know Jeff personally, let me catch you up. After Jeff’s accident in December 2010, he spent two months in a coma and on a ventilator, in a trauma center’s neurological intensive care unit. We celebrated when he moved from a neurological ICU to a trauma ICU, because that actually meant he was getting better.
He nearly died again in the trauma ICU due to infection. Out of curiosity, can you remember what you were doing around Christmas and New Year’s? I was authorizing frightening surgeries approximately every 36 hours to attempt to stem the systemic infection that very nearly took his life yet again close to a month after the accident.
Fixing the infection site required cutting his abdomen open so many times they couldn’t close his abdominal wall, so they left a giant hole in his abdomen and covered it with a skin graft to protect against infection.
After moving from neurological ICU to trauma ICU to step-down unit, physical therapists began the job of re-teaching this man (who has a master’s degree in electrical engineering, by the way) how to do basic things. When I say “basic,” I mean “swallowing,” “talking,” and “sitting up.”
When he was too strong for an ICU but not strong enough to walk on his own, he was sent to a rehab hospital, where they worked for another month on getting him mobile with a walker, and fitted him for a wheelchair when he wasn’t strong enough to walk.
Six months after those scary surgeries (remember Christmas and New Year’s?) we were sent to another trauma center in another state in order to reconstruct and repair his abdomen without damaging his intestinal tract. The hole in his abdominal wall was about 6”x9”, by the way. Imagine trying to bend over or tie your shoes with a hole that large in your abdominal muscles.
He’s relearning things. He has holes in his memory from throughout his entire life. If you’re married, imagine how mind-wrenching it is to have to tell your spouse – whom you’ve been together with for half your life – how you met. Because he doesn’t remember.
What’s worse? He’s going to read this.
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Things are not back to normal. The old normal is gone, replaced by this new normal we’re still figuring out. He still isn’t back to work. He’d like to go, but permission to even attempt a few hours of work per week is up to his neurologist, his occupational therapist, his general practitioner and probably a couple of other specialists I’m forgetting to name here.
So while I’m recounting things, I’d like to tell a little story. It is, unfortunately, a true story, and it’s emblematic of many of the stupid and small things that I have gone through in the past eight months. I’m sure pretty much every member of Jeff’s family has similar stories; I can’t speak for them, so this is mine.
We have cats. Big, silly, bitey orange tabbies. They’re twelve-year-old littermates. They’re our kitty-kids. They adore me, like Jeff, and distrust the rest of the world.
By law, they also have to be vaccinated and examined every 12 months, or we face penalties from our county. As luck would have it, they were due for their shots in December. I spent two weeks of December camped out in the neurological ICU waiting room. After that, I had to go home and resume working at my job, in order to preserve my sick time. It was somewhere around Christmastime that it hit me: the cats had to get to the vet in the next few days or we faced fines.
Between keeping in constant contact with the ICU nurses (the trauma center was 90 minutes away) and trying to work full-time and trying to deal with Social Security, disability policies, insurance policies, and legal matters – I barely slept, much less ate. Not to mention trying to get to the hospital every chance I could.
It was somewhere around this time I began noticing something that hurt like hell, and still hurts. The easiest way to tell if someone was about to disappear from my life was to hear the statement “I’ll pray for you.” It was as if those words were an absolution, a get-out-of-jail-free that meant they had done their Christian duty and could go on with their lives.
Maybe some people are buttressed by the power of prayer alone, but offers of prayers didn’t get the cats to the vet’s.
In larger terms, it’s asking if you’ve got anything other than platitudes and pretty words when you’re presented with someone who is in actual need.
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There’s a good quote that I think is worth bringing out at this point:
“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. “
In comparison, I think of my friends – some religious, some not. They brought food. They made phone calls. They got me to and from the hospital when I was too tired to drive safely. They picked up my husband’s blood-stained belongings from the wrecker’s office. They had me over for dinner even though I was too shell-shocked to talk much, because that way they could make sure I was eating.
One of them stayed two weeks by my side in the hospital. That’s a level of loyalty and care that I’ll spend the rest of my life repaying.
These people also had something else in common: not once did they say “I’ll pray for you.” They didn’t have to say it; their beliefs (some religious, some not) shone through in their actions, and their kindness.
Every time someone says, “I’ll pray for you,” there’s a momentary wistful look on my face. What they can’t see is that I’m mentally trying to decide if I should bother asking if they’d help me get the cats to the vet’s office.
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Even though I am not religious, I am aware that the right thing to do, when a kindness is extended, is to be gracious and thankful. However, I also learned the hard way that many people don’t recognize when it’s time to stop reading the words in their holy book and start living them.
Perhaps you intended your email to be sarcastic and thought-provoking, but – in a nutshell – you sent a caustic, smug email, couched in religious terms, to someone who had tried to let people know that her spouse had been in a (the air quotes are yours) “life-threatening” accident.
You sent it to someone you didn’t even know. Would you ever send an email like that to your co-workers, your family, your friends? Would you want your spouse receiving an email like this if you were injured?
To paraphrase the end of your email…
I don’t know you personally, but as a non-believer, unless you’re coming to help take the cats to the vet’s, so to speak, I would prefer you not pray for me. Instead, please, pray for yourself. Pray for guidance, pray for kindness, pray for charity. I think you need them more than I do right now.
Tenzing’s got a vet’s appointment next week. If you’re in, let me know.