If the number of hours that the average believer prays for himself and his loved ones was stacked-up against the time spent praying for world peace and an end to hunger, which stack would be higher? It was a funny question to wake up to, but it’s the one I had after a horrific night last night, a night spent, frankly, looking forward to death. I thought I would have beaten this broken back problem by now—just as I once thought I would beat my shoulder problems—but this is the two month anniversary of my fall, and I’m nowhere near well, and it scares me so much that I’ve shed tears over it, this being the first time in my life that I cried because I was afraid.
In America, at least, when you complain of pain to whomever you see before you see your doctor, you’re asked to rate it on a scale of one to ten with ten being the worst pain imaginable and none of the other numbers being defined. If you ask your questioner to define the difference between, say, a pain level of four and a pain level of six, what do you think she (it’s always a she) will say? “Well, six is two points worse than four.” The query becomes a game in which the patient tries to guess which number he needs to give in order to have his problem taken seriously while avoiding any suspicion on the doctor’s part that he might be exaggerating. I realized last night that I’m no longer going to answer the question because it’s bullshit, and I’m sick of bullshit. I put up with way more of it than would seem necessary, and I’m sure you do too.
I prayed last night—my situation being that desperate—not to some supernatural entity but to a place within myself that I used to visit when I needed guidance, but the existence of which I have come to doubt. My prayer went, “Wisdom be in my head, and in my understanding. Wisdom be in my eyes, and in my seeing. Wisdom be in my mouth and in my speaking. Wisdom be in my heart and in my thinking. Wisdom be at my death, and at my departing,” these being close to the words that I loved when Father Hale said them every Sunday at Redeemer Episcopal forty years ago. Last night, they came from my lips like a stillborn baby so decayed that it disintegrated in the hands of the midwife. I was shocked, even horrified. I had expected little of good from the ancient words—a momentary connection with peace, youth, health, safety, community, idealism, and the beauty of morning light through stained glass, perhaps—but I didn’t foresee disgust, and it hurt me to realize how hardened I’ve become. I’ve tried to hold, at least metaphorically, to that which I once found beautiful, while gently letting go of the ugliness, but I have failed.
Then a song about heaven (from my fundamentalist childhood) came to mind, but I can’t remember which one. Christian music touches me more than spoken prayers, even really old and quaint spoken prayers like the one I had just said. Who wouldn’t want to go to a place where everyday is a picnic with your loved ones in resplendent surroundings? Singing holy, holy, holy forever-and-ever-and-ever might sound like a complete bore, but having your every dream realized would be okay, or at least I thought so when I was a child who loved to run for joy well past dark and had no desire whatsoever to “get things done.” Like the pain scale, church is a game with serious overtones, or at least it became that way for me. As for how it affects other people, I can only take their words and compare them to their actions, and on that basis, church appears to do more harm than good.
Of course, that is religion. God is another matter. I don’t know why I think about God more, I suspect, than almost anyone who believes in God. I have often said that I too would like to believe in God, and so here I stand, ripe for conversion, so convert me. Show me the error of my ways, so that I too can hold a happy view, a view that gives meaning to a life of pain, a life from which I will be extricated within twenty years or so as if I had never lived, all this pain for nothing, and with the sure knowledge that nothing I did in life will have mattered except to a very few people who will also be dead soon if they’re not already dead. Like the believer, I would like to wake up in the morning to see God peeping lovingly through my window, instead of awakening to a universe of insensate matter and energy that rumbles through the hallways of time and space, knocking against one another for no reason while creating and destroying an endless succession of worlds in the cold, dark void of space. All I ask is that you make your God consistent with the facts. Not a perfect God who nonetheless created an imperfect universe and was forced to die so that he could forgive its imperfection, but a God who provides answers rather than provocations, a God who is both worthy of worship and consistent—as opposed to oxymoronic—with reality.
The next day
Yesterday, I became so desperate to escape the pain and fear that I put on a great big Fentanyl patch (big for Fentanyl is about an inch square), and it left me wide awake and deliriously happy last night, not every moment of the night, but most moments of the night. How am I to wrap my mind around the fact that the things that I think make me happy or sad have no power except inasmuch as they stimulate various parts of my brain, and that no person or event can stimulate those parts quite so profoundly as drugs? I love nothing and no one like I love Peggy, yet even my happiest moments with her are accompanied by the crushing knowledge that, before too many more years, one of us will die and leave the other alone. After enough Fentanyl, I can say with the apostle:
“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
Drugs make the universe into a toy that was put here for my pleasure. Why then, am I not an addict? I don’t think I have any choice in the matter. Flip one chromosomal switch, and I’m one way; flip another, and I’m the opposite. Maybe this is why 5% of people are atheists, but even if we’re right about the irrationality of theism, how much credit can we take for our insight?
Brewsky was behind me as I finished this post, so I took his picture. As you can see, he is sitting on a small ladder, and, yes, I have been using that ladder as well as the ladder that I fell from two months ago. I re-floored and repainted this room just before my fall.