Many people make all kinds of promises. There are promises between siblings. There are promises between lovers and couples, between parents and children.
Then there are promises made to gawd. Some of those are silly ones. For example, a man promises to become a priest, if his gawd gets him out of a fix. Then he doesn't want to go through with it.
There was a time, long ago, when I made a promise to God, and it didn't involve the priesthood at all. Back, when I was eleven, my mother was in a bad car accident; hit by a drunk driver. In those days, drinking and driving was hardly a crime. The accident happened late one night. My dad made me breakfast the next morning as a prelude to breaking the news.
As this was the 70s, the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) didn't allow children. I had to wait a while before seeing her. Each day I had to wonder - would I ever see her, again? If I saw her, again, what would her condition involve? Would I even recognize her? What would she look like? Each night, I prayed tomorrow would be the day I would see her. End each day lead to still more disappointment.
Until finally, came the day that dad said I could see her - she'd been moved to a private room, and today we would go to the hospital. Just the thought of seeing her filled me with more joy than I had ever known. The car ride to the hospital was the single longest I have ever known - I truly thought we were driving to Alaska or something, as it seemed to take days to get there.
Once inside, we headed up to the fourth floor, and there we encountered a problem - the doctor needed to talk to my dad - we couldn't see her. My heart sank - something was wrong. My dad said, "Just sit tight." He'd talk to the doctor, and then we'd see her.
I was less than convinced.
They walked off, and I was alone in the main lobby area. Doctors and nurses buzzed around me, wrapped up in their work, and totally ignoring me. Again, back then there wasn't much concern about leaving a kid alone in a lobby. I wanted to scream, to ask a question, to do something, but I didn't know what to do. Then, off down the hall, I saw it, the chapel. Walking down to the door, I stood in the doorway and looked in - no one was there. I stepped inside, and went from feeling alone to feeling comforted. After all, there's one place you're never alone, that is, in a chapel.
Sitting in one of the pews, I began to pray. I asked God to help my mother, and I wanted to offer him something in return, but I didn't know what was appropriate. Should I offer money? That seemed silly. I mean, I knew we put money in the collection plate in church, but did God really need my few dollars in exchange for my mother's life? Somehow, it didn't seem right.
What about devotion or my life, would gawd barter for such intangibles? No, He already had the first, and would God actually take a child's life in "payment" for his the life of his mother? Then I thought of something my dad had told me - my mother had been so badly hurt, she'd needed two blood transfusions, and the Red Cross had provided the blood. I also remembered what Jesus had said to his disciples at the Last Supper - the wine was his blood. Somehow, an offering of my blood seemed appropriate. I pledged to God that I would always donate blood, and I would not rest until I had given two pints for every one given to my mother.
I'm no judge as to the value of prayer, but my dad came and got me a few minutes later, and I was finally able to see my mom. She had two broken arms, a broken foot and many other injuries, but she was alive and getting better. Lying there, broken and battered, I thought she was the single most beautiful woman I had ever seen.
Finally came the time when she was able to come home - Christmas Day - and never was there a better gift for a young boy. That night, getting ready for bed, I still remembered my pledge.
In the fullness of time, I grew old enough to donate blood, and heavy enough; I was a rather scrawny kid. I went to the blood bank and gave my first pint. I'd always had a "thing" about needles - they scared the ever-loving daylights out of me! This meant that, lying there on the couch; I was sweating bullets and trembling from head to toe. The nurse actually asked me if I wanted to change my mind.
I said no!
With that, she stuck the needle in, and I nearly shot off of the couch! Yet, I kept my arm immobile, and the nurse was nice enough to talk me down, so to speak. I got through the process, and she started to take the blood away. I stopped her, asking to hold the pint for just a moment. She thought it odd, but agreed. It felt so warm and soft in my hand - much like my mother's hand had felt in mine, that day in the hospital and I blessed that pint and sent it on its way.
After that, I became a regular at the blood bank, and the staff got quite good at "handling me." They put it in my file: "He jumps when stuck." Over time, I gave a gallon and then another and another; with each pint, I also said good-bye to it, blessed it, and remembered my pledge. When I went off to college in Atlanta, I heard about something called the Phresis Program. In it, a donor could go in each week, and the blood bank would take their blood out of one arm, remove one component that was needed by patients, such as (plasma, platelets or white blood cells, and put the rest back in the other arm. The whole process took nearly two hours, and it meant getting two needle sticks, but it was the same as giving two pints of blood, and I could do it every week.
I signed up. As my blood type is "0+"; they wanted my platelets for cancer patients. Eventually, the nurses got quite good at taking care of me; one would stick me, one would cover my eyes, and one would hold my feet (so I wouldn't kick). After that, they'd turn on the TV or hold a book for me so I could pass the time. Week in, week out, I went back. Sometimes the nurses would ask why I did it, as it was clear I was terrified of the needles. For some reason, I really didn't want to share my reason; so I laughed it off, with a joke about how I loved the Nutter Butter cookies they fed me after the process finished. I didn't see that as a lie, as I did love those cookies; I just didn't want to speak of the deep importance the event had for me.
By the time I'd graduated, I'd given a great many "pints" of platelets to the blood bank, and just like the blood, I said good-bye to each. To be honest, I lost count somewhere after five gallons, but I didn't see that as important - I'd kept my pledge to God.
Over the years, I continued to give, and only stopped when a health problem made it impossible to donate more. Perhaps it was God's way of saying: "Be at peace, my son, you have honored me; now I shall honor you." I seem to recall a line of Scripture that said something like that.
Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.
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