That’s how I feel now. Invisible. I’m here, but few people know it. Few people care. I slink down hospital stairwells and wander past signs that say “Personnel Only.” Occasionally, someone dressed in scrubs will ask me how I got there, so I feign innocence. Somehow I’ve gotten turned around, I explain, and I’m lost. So the nurse kindly points me in the right direction.
Moments later, I’m invisible again.
My private jaunts invariably lead me back to the Burn Unit. Hiding in corners, I listen to the living mummies moan indiscernible utterances of anguish. Their muted cries give voice to what I feel inside. I’m convinced something is wrong with my tear ducts. I want to cry. But can’t.
So I sit in silence with the mummies. I feel at home here. Among the suffering. This makes me feel guilty though. I know I don’t deserve to share in their pain. After all, I get to walk away whenever I feel like it.
The sign over the double doors states that no one is allowed to enter. But I know the rules about visiting don’t really apply. Not when a family member is on the verge of dying. The hospital staff lets you stay, all night if need be, so you can be there to say good-bye when it’s time.
My oldest brother isn’t supposed to live. He’s on another floor. In ICU. Since we’re from out of town, this big-city hospital lets us sleep in an old Victorian house across the street. We’ve spent weeks here, teetering on the edge of Hades.
I’m supposed to be reading The Secret Garden for my sixth grade book report. But I can’t concentrate. So I find new elevators and meander the sterile hallways instead. During my little explorations, I discover a strange room with a placard labeling it CHAPEL. It’s smaller than my bedroom, and it looks like a miniature sanctuary, complete with three tiny pews.
Several symbols stretch across one wall. A cross. A crucifix. A Star of David. And a few others I don’t recognize. It’s a smorgasbord of religion.
The crucifix draws my attention the most. I’ve never seen one so close. The crosses at my church are bare, but this one shows Jesus in 3-D. When I touch the mini nails that perforate Jesus’s hands and feet, I think about the needles and tubes puncturing my brother’s body.
Pierced. His body broken. His blood spilled.
Every time I come to the chapel, I kneel and pray the way I see adults do it at church. I plead for God to end my brother’s suffering. I try to bargain with God, except I don’t have anything to offer except my bicycle and pup tent. Please, God, make him better or take him home.
These are the only conceivable choices.
But God doesn’t answer either one of these prayers. My brother never makes it to heaven, although I’m told his heart stopped twice on the operating table. But he never gets better either. He’s sentenced for life, imprisoned in a body that will never work right again.
My family once saw The Passion Play in a large amphitheater. The crucifixion scene was harrowing, and even though I knew the torture wasn’t real, I couldn’t watch. It embarrassed me to see Jesus in his underwear. So I kept my eyes on Mary instead. No mother should ever have to watch her son suffer like that. It’s cruel.
In my brother’s hospital room, my mom sits in the chair next to his bed. Her pale hands match her ashen face. A deep, unspeakable sorrow pervades all expression. Any attempt at trivial conversation seems stilted and contrived. The bitter reality penetrates the air we breathe.
My father is conspicuously gone a lot. And the visitors come less and less now. At first, dozens of people crowded the waiting rooms. Everyone prayed for a miraculous healing. But as the days and months wore on, people’s endurance waned. In time, people went back to their regular lives with nothing more than a sad story to tell.
I suppose it was like that for Jesus too. For a while, lots of people crowded around Him, waiting to see what would happen next. Would there be another miracle? Another exciting story to go home with? The masses congregated to hear Him speak and watch Him perform, but eventually, they went home. They had fields to tend and children to feed.
One by one, everyone left. Even His closest friends deserted Him. In the end, it was just Jesus, alone on a cross, with His mother weeping near his dead feet.
That’s what our hospital room looks like now. My brother’s body, lacerated and bruised, and made immovable by a hideous unseen force. And my mother close by, near her own son’s dead feet.
Everyone else is gone.
After several more months of rehabilitation, my brother comes home. And we deny this final verdict. With prayer meetings and a trip to a Billy Graham Crusade, we reach for a miracle. With visits to more and more doctors’ offices, we search for a cure.
But eventually, everyone accepts that no prayer meeting, no evangelist, no doctor, and no surgery could ever restore this brokenness.
And a wheelchair ramp is permanently built to our front door.
My parents shutter the doors of the small church they lead. And faith seems more like a sweet notion for lives unmarred by tragedy.
Faith is crucified and buried.
I’m no longer the pastor’s kid.
And I’ve missed so much school I’m no longer an honor roll student either.
But I’m numb to the poor grades. And numb to the circumstances around me. I’m so numb, in fact, I wonder what it means to live. I can’t feel anything anymore. And as much as I try, I can’t even cry. I feel as though I’m going to implode.
That’s when I notice a notepad on my shelf. I open it and stare at the blank pages. Then, without knowing how or why, I feel prompted to write. Words fill each line. And the Presence I once sensed during worship is with me.
For the first time in a long time, I know I’m not invisible.
I’m not alone.
Has your faith ever been shattered by tragedy?
Click here to read PART 3.