Thursday, November 03, 2005

Weekly Battles

It’s not a bad place really. The AIDS center feels like something between a hospital ward and a nursing home. It always smells vaguely of cleaning chemicals, medicine, and bodies that don’t stay as clean as the rest of us. But it’s not a bad place. There is plenty of light, fun things to do, and the staff are friendly and competent.

I don’t know how long he’s been here. But visiting him is the cornerstone of my trip each week. Usually there are three of us that go and visit the folks living there. He’s probably in his early 60’s. An African-American man, who says that he used to be 6’3”, 235lbs, but a recent stroke has deprived him of the use of his arm and consistent use of his right leg, so he’s wheelchair bound. Most of the time he just lies in bed. What little body he has left is protruding with tubes beneath the sheets of his bed.

I get the impression that other folks don’t like him much. I don’t think he’s really a “good neighbor.” Although there are brightly colored paintings on the outside of the door – paintings he has created but look like a child’s – he is not very friendly with the other patients, the staff, or many other visitors. For some reason he just seems to like us. No one really knows why.

We always come about the same time in the afternoon. And like clockwork we talk to him about his week, about baseball (he’s a diehard Red Sox fan) and about how he is feeling – all while Jerry Springer plays on the t.v. above his bed. I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to concentrate on a conversation while Jerry Springer-style fights rage above your head, but it is not easy. The interesting thing about him, and about most of the patients there, is that they never talk about their HIV or AIDS. When you ask them how they are doing, they’ll say “doing alright. But my arm is hurting this week.” Or, “better this week, but I can’t get rid of this cough.” If they ever do mention it, it is ‘the virus,’ or ‘my condition,’ - but they almost never do.

This week, after 15 minutes of visiting with him, we asked if we could pray, and what we should pray for. Like always he asked for prayer for increased mobility in his arm and leg. I don’t even know if he believes in God. “Dear Heavenly Father…” and the three of us began to pray. He never prays aloud with us – just closes his eyes there on the hospital bed and listens, while Jerry Springer plays in the background. We implore God to come and heal his leg and arm, “God, you are a God who heals. Come and touch this man – make his body strong again.” I know that the three of us are all praying for ‘the virus’ in our heads, but none of us mentions it aloud. I believe that God does heal, that God can supernaturally transform this man just like Jesus did at the Bethesda pool. But after weeks of prayer, calm and orderly, usually lasting about 5 minutes, I realize that I’m not sure if I believe it for him anymore. Oh, it’s not that I lose the faith in my head, but somewhere in my heart I realize that I have begun saying the words, and even believing the concept, without really expecting anything to happen.

As I stand there beside the bed, I rationalize that there are lots of reasons why God doesn’t choose to heal through my prayers. I’m not a very good Christian sometimes. I snapped at someone the other day. I haven’t been regular in my personal devotions. But I can dismiss those in my head as quickly as they appear. Of course, that doesn’t mean I don’t believe them somewhere. As we finish our prayer, he smiles and shakes hands with the three of us. We smile and talk about the upcoming basketball season, something sure to lift his spirits after a disappointing Red Sox season. And all the while I am left in my own head, wondering why I even bother to pray. Is it for this man’s sake – this person who I don’t even know believes in God? Am I trying to accomplish something else? What good is prayer if I’m not sure that I really expect God to do anything? Maybe I should be praying for something else entirely…and we turn in our visitor badges. And the three of us walk out the door – talking about the World Series.

Grace & Peace