Most cats understand the word no, despite all appearances to the contrary. But to them it has a different meaning than the one their “owners” intend. It doesn’t mean don’t do that in feline logic, but rather, don’t do that when they can catch you.
The hospital chaplain I’ve nicknamed PP, for Prevaricating Preacher, seems to have had a similar conception of the word.
When my boyfriend told him that I was an atheist and he promised not to come around again, he did it anyway. No doesn’t count when there are birds outside the window!
The second time he again swore he would stop visiting me. But he interpreted it as…when Keith is with Stephanie.
He visited when Keith’s mom Joella, an Episcopalian, was on her shift, telling her, “I’m going to pray now,” without even asking if it okay. You’re going to have to make me get off this counter.
He came around three times when my mom, a Jewish-atheist, was with me. She told him that we were atheists twice. But unlike the Christian-raised Keith, she allowed him to pray the first two times because we feel a peculiar kind of hands-off discomfort around Christian clerics. Perhaps it’s a holdover from our persecuted past percolating down to us. At some unconscious level, we still feel threatened, though times have changed and we don’t even practice the religion of our people. For me, it’s also because I’m such a knee-jerk smartass about religion that I don’t trust myself not to be inadvertently offensive.
However, PP crossed the line on his second visit by praying, “May you take the Lord’s light in your heart and be healed.”
My incensed mom cut off the prayer hotline. Joella reports that he didn’t try again with her, either. I guess PP finally got the idea in his head that he’s not supposed to jump on that particular counter.
With cats it often takes a spritz from a spray bottle. The Hulk has nothing on my mom when she’s angry.
I was whisked off—or should I say warehoused?—to a Catholic nursing home as my coma ticked toward its sixth week. Five days later, I awoke. (The timing wasn’t coincidental. Every time I was moved or disturbed in a significant way, my awareness improved.)
I told the story of the Catholic nursing home priest I encountered on the day of my awakening in the first part of this series, “God is Good,” But for What?. (Here’s the second part: Isn’t There Something in the Bible About Lying?)
The title of part one contains a direct quote from the priest.
I couldn’t speak because I had a tracheostomy tube in my throat. So when the priest asked me if I had thanked God for my life, all I could do was emphatically shake my head.
Five days after that, the incision through which my gastric tube was threaded—I now have a second belly button—began to hemorrhage. I was sent back to the hospital in a sirened limousine to have it repaired.
My return to the ICU, where I had lain like Sleeping Beauty through nearly the entire course of my coma, became a continual reunion for the staff. There was a constant stream of medical personal filing into my room, telling me how good I looked as they misted up. They meant, as opposed to looking like a corpse lying in state, which the doctors thought I would be before long.
I didn’t remember any of them. Though I experienced covert cognition during my coma, I believe the bulk it, when my awareness was at its highest, was in those last five days in the nursing home.
That meant I was spared from hearing PP’s prayers, fortunately.
But one of those return visitors was a certain cleric with a loose definition of honesty.
You’ll recall that a common scenario in nightmares involves being confronted by a terror while paralyzed and unable to scream.
After my awakening, I was as feeble as a baby from six weeks of immobility and damage from multiple strokes on both sides of my brain. (You can see why so many believers think my recovery was a miracle.) And as I said, I couldn’t speak.
I was in that immobile and mute state, recovering from abdominal surgery, when PP slinked into my room at a time when I was momentarily alone. They’ll never know I was here.
“Do you mind if I talk with you?” he asked.
I made a slight, unenthusiastic, shake of my head.
PP must’ve felt vindicated, after Keith’s requests for him to not to bother me, but I was just being polite. At the time, I didn’t know about my loved ones’ encounters with him, but they occurred only a few weeks prior to my return visit. Yes, I suppose it’s possible that he had forgotten about his several contentious meetings with Keith and my mom. But how often do you think he confronts a family of unbelievers circling around a youngish dying atheist—with a distinctively alliterative name—who is in a prolonged coma? And I would think the multiple confrontations PP had with my loved ones would’ve been memorable to him. It certainly was to Keith and my mom.
Whatever the case, he finally succeeded as he walked to my bedside. I would’ve squirmed, but I could barely move.
“May I pray for you?”
Like my otherwise less-than-retiring mom, I felt a bit cowed by his presence. I made a little resigned nod.
But then I thought, why should I be subjected to this? Aren’t hospital chaplains supposed to be there to comfort patients and their loved ones? All I felt was discomfort. And didn’t he know I was an atheist? (He should’ve, since it was in my records, even ignoring the numerous times he was informed of the fact by Keith and my mom.)
It felt like such an imposition to me, like he wasn’t praying for me, but at me. I flashed back to the scene with the nursing home priest, and thought, “No!”
I shook my head as vigorously as I could, considering my enfeebled state.
Like the other priest, he looked thoroughly shocked. But he shouldn’t have been.
PP finally left me alone—as Keith had repeatedly requested—having seen for himself that I hadn’t let the Lord’s light into my heart and was still healed.
In the concluding episode of continuing adventures of The Nearly Died Young and the Godless, I’ll unpack my theories about the preacher’s rational for prevaricating and what his behavior says about general attitudes toward nonbelievers.
This post is dedicated to my cat Taran, who usually shows more respect for my wishes than PP did…unless there are birds outside the window.
Image: Flickr member voyagevixen2.