Day in and day out, my wife prayed for my health and for my continued presence on this earth. Her brother Joe and his wife Martha, who attended a Catholic church, St. John’s of Vianney, had organized thirty Hispanic men, women and children, including my nieces, to pray for me too. There were others. Every morning these relatives and strangers whispered my name in their intimate conversations with God, and implored him to spare me. I was touched and strengthened by their love and by their answered prayers. I was saved – at least for the moment– and was grateful for that. I would be able to share life with April again, to be with my children and grandchildren, to rise in the morning and greet the sea.
Was God really behind this good fortune? Had he intervened to rescue an agnostic soul as a reward to the believers? Thankful as I was for their concern, I didn’t like to think so. For if He had saved me to answer their prayers then I would also have to hold Him responsible for the others, whose prayers went unheard.
One of the patients who came regularly at my appointed time was a young woman who seemed to be in her twenties. She did not come in from the parking lot where her husband might be waiting for her as my wife did for me. She came in a wheelchair accompanied by a sad woman who appeared to be her mother and who had wheeled her to the radiation clinic from one of the recesses of the vast hospital complex we were in. She had barely begun life, but her eyes had already traveled to a distant space, displaying a vacancy that could have been equally the result of medications or resignation. For her this life had become a waiting room from which there was no exit. I could not help thinking, each time I saw her, of the many lives I had been privileged to live in my span, and those she would not.
I was acutely conscious of the inhabitants of the cancer ward whose prospects were worse than mine. Along with those who loved them they had endured multiple operations, multiple setbacks, years of a crippled existence, and a fate on hold. “Life is a hospital,” the poet Eliot wrote. I could appreciate the metaphorical truth in the image, but it still felt like a violence to the reality that confronted me. Not all life’s hospitals were equal and not all God’s children were saved.
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