All my life, I’ve been agnostic. I’ve been a questioner. Sometimes a doubter.
While today is Memorial Day, it’s also the fifth anniversary of my son’s craniotomy.
The craniotomy, and my own faith (or lack of faith) are now intertwined.
From the beginning, Z (my son) was talented at a lot of things. He picked up academics, easily. He played any sport (excepting golf) very well.
At the same time, he was…challenging. He was always polite, but not always kind. Or patient. Or sympathetic to people less gifted than himself. By middle school, some of his choices in friends worried me. When people would post inspirational things like “God never gives you more than you can handle,” I’d figure God was definitely overestimating my ability. [To be clear, some of those friends are in prison, today. Some are likely dead, due to violence or other poor choices.]
Even though I was agnostic, I frequently prayed that he would turn out to be a good person. I often asked for help being a better parent, so that I could help him grow up to be a better person.
When, at the end of 8th grade, Z was diagnosed with a brain tumor, it was terrifying. When he didn’t wake up from the anesthesia as quickly as expected, it was scary. For a few days, I walked miles in the neighborhood around the ICU, often having a one-sided conversation with God.
I asked “why are you doing this?” No answer.
I asked “will he be ok?” No answer.
I demanded an answer. No answer.
I wondered whether I’d done something wrong, that he’d punish my wife, my son, and me with this. No answer.
I vividly remember the relief when Z demonstrated that he could talk, again.
I almost-as vividly remember thinking that it might be time to progress from agnostic to atheist. It was science that saved my boy. It was my intuition and diligence that got him to the hospital on time, rather than waiting until morning (when he might have been dead.) It was good people—doctors, therapists, teachers, coaches, friends, and relatives—who stepped up to help Z recover. Where was God? God was silent. I’d asked for guidance, for help, for answers. And I’d gotten none.
In the five years hence, Z has had a fair amount of success…with school, and with sports.
And I’ve stopped attending organized prayer.
But when Z was ready to go back to school a few months after his surgery, we had a conversation. I advised him that he had an opportunity to make a new first impression. If he didn’t like his reputation, he could remake it. And everyone—EVERYONE— would attribute the prior misbehavior to the brain tumor.
Today, Z is a magnificent human being. Sympathetic and empathic. Helpful. Kind. Good-hearted. Generous. Loving. (He’s also brilliant, funny, and athletic, but I don’t believe he had a choice in those.)
Today, I find myself agnostic again.
I’d asked for a lot. And, ultimately, I got everything I’d prayed for. And I’m not sure I could have gotten all of this, without something as significantly traumatic as a brain tumor.
Today, I find myself agnostic, leaning toward belief. Maybe the brain tumor was my Pigeon Feathers. If Z was given a second chance, maybe God deserves one, as well.