Once upon a time, I didn't believe we could ever know the future, let alone change it. I didn't believe in demons, or ghosts, or prophecy, or miracles, or anything of the sort. Psychologists as a general rule don't believe in free-floating evil. The only demons exist within, and only in the metaphorical sense, though we admit evil can be caused by circumstances without. You can't sit all day and listen to other people's stories and not admit that. But psychologists believe in ids, psychoses, obsessions. Human beings are damaged, traumatized, deviant, or lacking in impulse control: Their fathers abused them, their mothers neglected them, their egos are fragile, they were poor and deprived. Not to mention they have too many Y's in their X's and Y's, too little serotonin in their synapses, and dopamine out the wazoo. If they hear voices and see visions or demons or ghosts, they have a chemical malfunction of the brain that must be treated and cured.
I no longer believe rational answers explain everything, partly because of what I've seen and felt and know, and partly because if there are no demons, there are no angels. Yet an angel lives in my house. At least one. His name is Elijah. Our stories make us who we are. Most of us believe we must hold them inside if they are very painful and raw, because no one will want to listen. Here is where psychology and theology surely agree: Suffering buried inside is a bitter poison indeed. And chief among God's miracles is human compassion, which is often thought of as mere altruism, but which actually offers very sweet fruit in return. Every new day is a miracle, is it not?
I did not tell this story to Maggie's mother, but I want to tell you.
He was a clever demon. His song seemed like comfort, when I could find none.
I was praying. There in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit where the death of children was everywhere, and my own child's death a distinct possibility, I heard a disembodied voice, a melodious tenor, and acoustic guitar accompaniment. A virtuoso performance this was, syncopated rhythms and slides and chord progressions that seemed beyond the instrument's capabilities. Yet the song I heard in the air was a simple lullaby, the same one I sang to my boy each night.
Wynken, Blynken, and Nod one night Sailed off in a wooden shoe, Sailed on a river of crystal light, Into a sea of dew.
Who would have such nerve, to play music where children were dying?
Dr. Jonas was examining Elijah, and the song sluiced through my ocean of pain as I watched the young doctor manipulating the flesh of my flesh, slack limbs of my limbs. I watched and I prayed. Oh, where are you, baby? What distant land have you sailed to? The song offered a kind of warmth in that season of absolute zero. I took it for an angel's song, or even a lullaby from the throat of God.
I had been awaiting God's appearance, one way or another, so this was not a surprising conclusion. I don't know whether it's true that there are no atheists in foxholes, but if there are any mothers in the PICU thinking life is just a meaningless, random game of craps and I've lost, too bad, I wasn't one of them. At least I didn't think I was. For a week (or was it two?), whenever I could gather a coherent thought, I'd been believing in God with all my might. And praying, arguing, pleading, crying, screaming, damning, denying, apologizing, waiting.
Waiting, mostly, for God's answer.
What would the sound of God be like when it came? A sonic BOOM, a booming God-like voice, like the Voice that spoke to Charlton Heston when he played Moses? Would God speak in exalted language, using words no one but God would ever have the chutzpah to utter, words like "Behold!" and "Thy son is saved!"? Would there be saving angels with halos and wings? Maybe the hospital rabbi would come and say a simple Mi Shebeirakh, a prayer for healing, and my son would awaken, just like that, and say, "Mommy."
Reprinted from Saving Elijah by Fran Dorf by permission of Putnam Pub. Group, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright (c) 2000 by Fran Dorf. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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