The title is obviously tongue-in-cheek, people. He’s a little story from my past.
In the fall of my senior year in high school, I closed off the subclavian vein in my right shoulder and developed multiple blood clots in the same region. No one is exactly sure how that happened – probably a combination of heavy weightlifting and a smaller upper chest cavity. One evening, I notice my right arm had swollen and was becoming discolored. I wasn’t too worried about it until we saw a vascular surgeon who admitted me to intensive care the same day. As a eighteen year old with his life ahead of him, I faced the possibility of restricted use of my arm (a horrible scenario for a piano player) or worse - death.
Needless to say, that information pulled the rug out from under me. Though I loved God and served him wholeheartedly, I was unaware of the numerous other aspects of life that I allowed to define me: academics, popularity, sports, music, and physical appearance. Though I had prided myself on being above such trappings, when confronted with the possibility of losing them, I was terrified. Obviously, I survived the ordeal – I was in ICU for about seven days (I think) while the clots were dissolved and a network of ancillary veins slowly took over for the damaged one. But my time in that hospital bed changed my life.
I remember coming back to school a few weeks later after missing the last two games of football season. As I walked the halls with the other students, something had changed. Conversations that I normally would have jumped in or found interesting held absolutely no significance for me. I was completely lost within a new paradigm far removed from my immediate surroundings. I didn’t know what to do. I don’t think I talked much for a few days other than basic pleasantries and questions about the hospital stay. I was overwhelmed by the two conflicting sets of priorities. Personally, my priorities had shrunk to a very tight set of values revolving around God, family, and evangelism. Suddenly who I was taking to the prom seemed frivolous.
Gradually I adjusted back towards a normal “teenager” mentality before I headed to college. But I will never forget that feeling of being completely lost inside the familiar. One literature teacher, after watching the look on my face for about two weeks, asked me about it. I told her how I was feeling and she still uses the story in a lecture on some book – I think All the King’s Men. Anyway, some experiences in life, no matter how unforeseen, can change you permanently. I guess the lesson in all of that is this: when you find yourself in the middle of one of those life experiences, do your best to recognize how those events may shape your life in the future. In this way (pardon the philosophizing for a moment ) process philosophy‘s concept of humans as the sum of their personal experiences is correct. We are, to an extent, our history. Whitehead was just stating the obvious. And everyone has a “storyline” that shapes their paradigm. True friendship comes when others are interested enough in you to learn your “storyline” and interact with it.
On a side-note, as a Christian, one of the other most memorable moments in that whole ordeal was right before a surgery. I had been tired and nauseated for days and really didn’t want to speak to anyone. I had people praying in my hospital room constantly. Frankly, I was tired of praying. Really tired. I put on some headphones and started listening to a CD, Extreme’s III Sides to Every Story to be exact - a really good rock album, by the way. The people in the room stopped me. Saying, “You’re right before surgery, don’t you think you should pray some more?” I said, “No. I really want to listen to this music. I just need a break.” They said, “There will be time for music later.” Reluctantly (mostly because I was too tired to argue) I turned off the CD player and listened to people pray the exact same things they had been praying all morning. I don’t mean to sound flippant or ungrateful. I was thankful and I believe God brought me back to health – I should not be able to use my arm at all…and I have full use of it without restriction. But in that moment, I did swear to myself that I would never put someone that emotionally and physically tired under that much spiritual pressure. I wanted to think about anything else other than that surgery. As Christians, we should learn to read the nuances and respect the wishes of those we are praying for. Strange lesson to learn when facing the possibility of death, but an important one nonetheless.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the trip down memory lane with me. I’ll try to pick a lighter topic next time…