Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Flashback: The Doctor Cometh With Sage Advice…If Only I Had Followed It.

[Fifty years of politics written for my kids and grandchildren].

“Well,” said Dr. Jerry Bauer as he strode into my hospital room, “now that the entire hospital understood that you had to urinate the other night, the patients have deputized me to discover how you are feeling today?”

I really didn’t cause such a stir, did I?

“Oh, no. You were very sedate about it. So sedate we thought of giving you another sedative. But all the same, the Chief of Staff called me and demanded to know why I would not allow you to relieve yourself. But all that hollering probably did you good. Let’s look at the vitals.”

After a bit of perusing, examining my skull and then sitting down at my side.


“Yeah, I’m satisfied that we’ll have you around continuing to vote Republican for a while. But I must tell you that this is no light walk in the park. It’s not like, say, a heart bypass. Bleeds like yours took several weeks and we caught it in time. That nurse you had at Quaker Oats deserves your warmest praise for telling you to get a C-Scan and the doctor in a box should be drummed out of the corps for ineptitude. Those bleeds such as you had proceed slowly and they must be stopped before they do damage. We’ve stopped this one but you must take it easy—not just while you’re here but before you go back to work.

“And when you go back to work you should work half-days and not travel for I would judge a few months. You have to receive continued medical assessment. The fact is that you are 57 and at the threshold of elderly that is worrisome. The brain shrinks with age and the subdural space enlarges. The veins that traverse the space must travel a wider distance making them susceptible to tears. What this means is that you will have to take great care to get proper rest, avoid stress, take breaks occasionally…that kind of thing. But I am pleased. You’ll be out of here in a week. But you’ll stay home for quite a bit after that until I tell you that you can go back to work.”

Not long later I was visited by a chaplain, a sweet, beatifically smiling lady with the air of one seeking to make perfect this world that told me she was a liberal Protestant of uncertain denomination.

“How are we doing?”

I am doing well, thank you. How are you doing?

“I am a chaplain. Do you wish to talk?”

Of course.

“Have you ever thought…`oh, if I had my druthers I’d like to change some aspect of the world?’”


“And what would that be?”

To bring at the outset all Christian religions together under the fold of One Church, One Shepherd the way Jesus Christ intended.

“I was thinking non-denominationally.”

I know. This to me is much more important.

“I was thinking of a non-dogmatic, creedless approach to spirituality and faith development.”

Tell me how to arrive at a faith without a creed.

“Oh, very easily. Easier than mandating one single approach. It means combining experiences that constitute a faith without creedal requirements that are imposed. It means not asserting that ours is the only or even the best way possible to discern meaning or theological truths. In a very real sense we build our own theology.”

How interesting. Is it something like starting on a journey and not using a road map or seeking a fixed destination?

“Somewhat although that may be a prejudicial way of putting it.”

Why prejudicial? Don’t your congregations study Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, Pantheism and other faiths—all of whom have different destinations?

“Why yes.”

“To which you add Neo-paganism, Zen and also fragments of atheism and agnosticism?”

“You’ve attended Unitarian service, then?”

No. But why wouldn’t it be starting on a journey without a road map?

“Because we find our own destinations not a mandated one. I have had experience with mandated religion where we were directed.”

You mean when you were a Roman Catholic nun.

“Yes! How did you know?”

Not difficult.

“We Unitarians believe in completely responsible freedom of speech, thought, belief, faith and disposition, that each person is free to search for his or her own personal true on questions like existence, nature, the meaning of life, deities, creation and afterlife. We--.”

And tell me: what is the meaning of life?

“For me?”

Please don’t start me laughing because it hurts.

“Why would you laugh because I say that?”

Because it is like—to use the roadmap analogy again—it’s as if I asked you how you would be going to Des Moines from here and you were to respond `well, my way of going to Des Moines is not your way.’ Ridiculous if I may say so because there is only one way to get to Des Moines from here, would you not agree?

“No, you can take several routes.”

But all going in the same general direction—say to Des Moines.

With that a nurse came in to take my blood-pressure.

“Would you rather I come back at a different time?”

No. We were talking about going, say, to Des Moines.

“You know, you are basically an absolutist. I presume you’re Catholic?”

Yes. What you were once.

“Once—not now. The Catholic Church embraces too many absolutes.”

You dislike absolutes?

“They get in the way of the quest for truth.”

The nurse regarded her fixedly as she fastened the leather bandage about my arm. Then the nurse said: “Do you believe that?”

The chaplain brightened. “Yes, of course I believe that!”

“Then you believe in an absolute. Absolutes get in the way of truth.”

The chaplain smiled, “absolutely.”

“So,” the nurse said, writing down my pressure number, “you are absolutely sure there are no absolutes.”

The chaplain smiled as she had learned as a nun, beatifically.

“That’s a contradiction, isn’t it?”

The nurse and I answered together: “Absolutely.”

The chaplain got ready to go. No sale here.

“I wish you good day.”

Good day.

To the nurse I said, “you have read Aquinas.”

She said: “A long time ago when I didn’t believe it would come in handy. As it has now.”


After I got home and spent a few days my immediate boss…a man not known to be over-concerned about things other than his own destiny and who had not visited me in the hospital…telephoned and expressed the wish—I would describe it more as a command--that I return as soon as possible. There was a corporate PAC (Political Action Committee) letter to be sent out and some memos gathering for my perusal. And so I made a major mistake of my life…one which almost took my life in a far more serious way than the threat by the surdural hematoma…and returned too quickly to work.

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