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April 1, 2004

A Religious Experience

Pharmacist sign Yesterday I found myself in the hospital pharmacy. I usually avoid any pharmacy located within a hospital because it can be infected with the same Acquired Inefficiency Virus that attacks the hospital itself, but my oncologist (a quite splendid man) had been so positive as he wrote the prescription. The oncology pharmacist (another splendid fellow - come to think of it everyone who works in Oncology must be a candidate for sainthood) had called down to the hospital pharmacy and been told that, although the new meds were not on the Formulary, they just happened to have a month's supply on hand. Seven years out from the radiation treatments, and still feeling the effects of all the collateral damage that they had caused to the healthy tissue caught in the beams, I was less inclined to be choosy. It was also becoming quite clear that the cancer was again growing somewhere in my body. Like a good patient, down I went.

I turned in my paper and sat down to wait. About half an hour later, as I had moved to the best seat in the house where you could see the board with the names scrolling on it without turning your head, I noticed an elderly black man in the line with a young black girl. He was obviously in some pain and she motioned for him to sit down while she waited on line. He sat down next to me, and I noticed that he was neatly dressed and obviously looking for someone to talk to. Although my natural inclination is to avoid most contact with strangers, I was feeling vulnerable, took a chance, and smiled at him.

In spite of what Chris Rock says about the older Black Guys being the most hostile in private to us Crackers, I like them and try hard not to deal in stereotypes. He began by telling me that his back hurt. I replied that I knew what that was like, and had back problems myself. Indeed, a year before this encounter I had nearly passed out on the steps of the County Administration Building from intense sciatic pain, but I did not mention that to the old man because he looked like he had enough to worry about. Nevertheless, even the mention of a common pain was enough to form a bond between us.

He motioned toward the young black girl he had left in the line and told me that she was his granddaughter. I said that grandchildren were a blessing, having just spent several wonderful days with my youngest. The word "blessing" was like a switch that turned on a new light in the old man's eyes. "They are a blessing," he said, "truly a blessing." Thank you, Jesus," he said with great conviction, turning his eyes to look up. "You know, he died on the cross for us," he said to me. I looked into his eyes again and saw that the pain was gone from them. He had given it away to his savior. I was happy for him, and could see no point in telling him that I was not a Christian and did not share his deeply felt belief. I had a fleeting thought that I should not mislead him about my faith, or lack of it, but decided that I had not done so. After all, Jesus is my all-time favorite hero, and as a Jew, I consider him family.

My forbearance was rewarded. Seeming to notice for the first time that my skin was white, my new friend told me that, "In heaven, everybody is the same; there is no color for us in heaven, we are all the same." I was still OK. If there is a heaven, it would surely be like that. Once more, I had tiptoed through the minefield of hypocrisy without losing any body parts. He popped up, and moving much more easily, went to rejoin his granddaughter at the consult window with a smile on his face. I found myself smiling and moving a little easier too.

Thank you, Jesus.

Jesus offers wine & bread

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