Bernard Johnson - spiritually speaking column EPN

Bernard Johnson

I’ve been thinking about the illusion of security and control. A knock at the door when I was 14 years old shattered any illusion I might have had that everything in my life was under control. It was three days after Christmas and my father’s boss was at the door. He had come to break the news to our family that my father was near death after an industrial accident too gruesome to describe here. He was 53 years old.

Mr. Nichols would take my mother to the hospital where for several hours doctors and surgeons worked to save my father’s life and limbs. My sister and I would wait at home for 10 hours before we heard anything from mother or the hospital. Time stood still and a young boy’s life was redefined.

My father survived the loss of his right arm and broken bones throughout his body. My first visit to see him in the hospital came after several days and it took my breath away. I nearly fainted when I saw my father missing an arm and with both legs suspended in traction. How could this be my father? How will he hug me when he has only one arm? Will he ever walk again?

Dad would spend three months in the hospital and several more in physical rehabilitation while we struggled to find a “new normal” as a family. Dad was determined to recover from his injuries and would need the help of many people to do so. Ultimately he returned to work and prospered in his career until retiring at the age of 70.

I wish I could say I made it through this crisis with grace and strength. I did not. I was 14. Adolescence is enough of a crazy maker without this kind of burden. For a while my grades in school suffered. I had nightmares that featured another family member maimed by some accident or violence.

I became moody and antagonistic, which only made things worse, especially for my mother who felt the burden of trying to hold the family together while, in fact, we were in pieces.

I remember thinking life will never be what I hoped it might be simply because nothing now is for sure. My sense of security and control had been shattered. I would lie awake at night trying to imagine a future and I could not see one that felt safe.

In a parallel universe there was a world of people who were paying attention to our little family. We were members of a small Swedish Baptist church consisting mainly of elderly people of Swedish descent. My parents were immigrant Swedes and this little church was a connection to people and places a world away. I watched that little congregation come around our family in countless ways while we dealt with the unknowns that came with catastrophic injury.

They prepared meals for us and anticipated special needs that came with my father’s physical disability: a special bed, a remote-control television, round-the-clock nurses during the first critical weeks following the accident. Men of the church, one or two in particular, took it upon themselves to bring me with them to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park or a day away at a lake cabin.

Mostly, people showed up just to talk and listen to me and our family as we tried to make sense of life in a future none of us ever imagined would be ours to bear. In ways far from heroic a little church of gray-haired ladies and hard-working men gathered around a family in crisis and did what they understood they were supposed to do, namely to “...bear one another’s burdens and in so doing fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)

In the end, the really important things in life are rather simple to see and do, even when unimaginable events shatter the illusion of security and control.

Dr. Bernard E. Johnson shares this space with the Revs. Timothy A. Johnson, Rod Anderson and Trish Sullivan Vanni as well as spiritual writers Nanette Missahgi and Beryl Schewe. “Spiritually Speaking” appears weekly.

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