Dear Lord, Dear St Stephens
I am writing to thank you. You see, although you were unaware that as I sat ‘in hospital’, slept ‘in hospital’, and cried ‘in hospital’ my thoughts would drift toward our compassionate Christ, our loving shepherd, and a comforting St. Stephens.
My mind would fill with visuals of times when I felt His presence, especially during the difficult chapters of my life. I thought of many of my antecedents who often went through trials so devastating words could not adequately express.
And I remembered the time I first heard the remarkable story of the founder of St Stephen’s, William Thomson’s survival through perseverance and his determination to praise God with a dedication in 1862 in what is now British Columbia’s oldest Church. This former Scottish journeyman did the possible and left the impossible to God. This resonated with me. It still does.
As I wandered the fourth floor hospital halls in the early hours, usually between 3 and 4am, my heart stung so much that finding my friend Jesus would prove the only anecdote to my restless, anxious soul. I called out to Him and He always showed up. My inmost being cried for peace and He delivered.
Thoughts of our good and gracious God sheltered me from overwhelming heartache. Heartache from what might be, what could be, and what should be. Our Lord put the ‘what is’ that I could not face right where it belonged. He gave me the courage, through the power of His blood at the foot of His cross, to acknowledge and go through our son’s medical trauma, something so horrifying to me that without Him I would have succumbed to that bitter slide where darkness prevails.
God’s people can often find themselves in this pit that the psalmist David speaks of in his emotional and riveting testimonies in the center of the Bible. The biblical and historical King David points us to the Lord’s compassion, grace, and redemptive mercy as he allows his soul to reveal its pain. Our pain.
Two years have passed and our family’s heart has seen God’s merciful grace. St Stephen’s loving congregation and Loving Shepherd have been a blessing to us. Thank you.
Enclosed I share two letters close to my heart:
Letter 1 – The Accident
Dear Team David:
Two years ago this evening all of our lives changed as our David’s hung in the balance. It’s probably fitting that I write this during the evening hours, because it was during that time that the crisis unfolded: at the roadside, in the ambulance, at the Grey Nuns and finally at the University of Alberta Hospital.
As human beings we search for meaning in dates and symbols, and because of the gravity of what happened on this date two years ago will always loom ominously on the calendar for me. I can recall every detail of that fateful Thursday, from the postcard I received from David to the flag football game I played while David’s terrible accident took place. All of us learned about the accident differently, and I expect each of us responded to it in their own way, which a unique mixture of shock, sadness and disbelief. Ultimately my recollection is just one memory of the hundreds that comprise our collective Memory. I will share some of these remembrances.
I spent Thursday night and the early morning hours of Friday stricken in grief. At grave moments such as these our adrenaline wears off and only a dull feeling of horror remains. I gripped the postcard that had just been delivered and reread the photos and messages David had sent me minutes before he left on his bike ride.
The next day, as we realized how serious David’s accident was, we made arrangements for me to fly home to see him in the hospital. David had gone through his second emergency surgery, this time to remove a large fraction of his skull. We now waited to see if David’s condition would stabilize. In the hours that followed, his body’s ability to maintain stability (a process called homeostasis), was no longer in place because of the swelling to his brain. Physiological processes that our bodies execute without any input from us were now replaced by nearly a dozen IV bags, which delivered drugs or solutes to his body. His organs, freed from the control of his hypothalamus inside his brain, now threatened to shut down. I spent Friday at home in Iowa City staring at a screen as a flimsy attempt to forget that my world was collapsing. The internist wasn’t sure he would survive the night.
A certain natural order appeared to be upended that September evening. I thought about it as I boarded the 6AM flight, too numb to cry. I stared at the cornfields out my window and I considered this injustice. Older brothers don’t bury brothers in their twenties during peacetime, I told myself, an axiom proven untrue all over the world. I’d seen David just three weeks prior at a close friend’s wedding. He was the picture of youth and vitality, and I’d never seen him with such confidence.
David was ready to make his way in the world. A part of me refused to believe the accident took place; the other was gripped with fury at the forces that allowed it to happen. I let myself consider the unthinkable, and I wondered what I would say at his funeral. This exercise ended when I couldn’t envision myself saying that imagined eulogy without breaking down.
A friend drove me to the hospital from the airport, and he first thing I noticed when I arrived was how many people gathered in the waiting room. There were nearly fifty people in a space designed for fifteen. When I was ushered into the ICU my mother warned me that he didn’t look like David. She was right, he didn’t. This was shocking to others, too. A close friend of his had fainted a few hours earlier at the sight, dutifully removed from the ICU by a wheelchair.
The hours became days. I realized tearfully the following Monday that this wouldn’t be a recovery that would be measured in weeks. Everyone had left for the night, back to their homes and families and jobs. The lights in the main atrium of the hospital were turned off and my cheerful façade dissipated.
We know how this story ends, with David sitting at home tonight, two years later, watching Sunday Night Football after a gathering with friends. Normalcy has slowly returned, and every milestone brings David closer to his life as it was before the accident.
And yet nothing will ever be the same- we are all changed by these events, if only because we saw someone we love come infinitesimally close to death. Recalling the accident can sadden me in unexpected ways, and I find myself drawn to positive themes and people, avoiding harsh or hurtful words or sentiments.
We spend our lives fighting what physicists call entropy. Entropy is the tendency of nature to become more disordered over time, and it is an endless battle to stop or slow it. According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, to reduce entropy requires the input of energy.
While David fought for his life and recovered from his accident, I observed a corollary to this Law. David and our family were broken physically and emotionally by this accident, it took not merely energy but love to put us all back together, to reduce the entropy the disaster had begotten.
It’s impossible to estimate the number of gifts of love you provided to us, but we remember every one we possibly can. The fresh coffee brought to the waiting room, the transportation, the meals, visits, kind words, the help lent in a myriad of ways. I cannot imagine where our family would be without these expressions of love you provided so selflessly.
As a biologist I often think about how easy it is to disrupt something: a mutation in a key region of a gene can render an entire pathway or organism non-functional. It’s vastly more difficult to confer a new feature or improve activity.
The same is true in our lives. A misplaced step can leave us bruised on the ground. A hurtful word can make us feel isolated and confused. To repair and undo these things costs much more than the forces that brought them about. But we must always spend our lives repairing, fixing, confronting those forces that do damage and tear apart. We do that with love. A stray pothole disrupted a speeding bike and its passenger that bright evening two years ago, and it brought me to my knees.
It took the efforts of thousands to heal this tear in the fabric of the universe: A man and his son driving to a hockey game, who chose to stop and tend to a stranger on the side of the road. The neurosurgeon and his surgical team operating into the early hours of the night. The nurses who attended to all of David’s needs for months, and the therapists who led him through his painful rehabilitation. The tissue that held it together was you: the support and love you provided to David and the kindness and dignity you provided to our family.
What I cannot repay to you I will hold in my heart for others. As I lead my life I do so with the knowledge that love is our only weapon against this ephemeral entropy: the tendency of things to fall apart. May we always recognize this power we have within us, and rejoice in the fact that despite the terrible accident that befell him two years ago, our David is still here with us, thriving.
That’s something to smile about.
Letter 2 – from David
September 22nd was at first a day of horror. Broken skull, bruised brain, broken heart. Yet two years later I look at it as a day of honour. I’m honoured to have this scar on my heart and brain because of the many visits and messages that you all supplied.
Thank you for being there, and for being here. I love you all so much. Every day I get a reminder of September 22nd and today is just a big reminder of the support that I had and have. So thank you!!