dreams and visions

Dangerous Prayer

I hurt myself today
to see if I still feel
I focus on the pain
the only thing that’s real
the needle tears a hole
the old familiar sting
try to kill it all away
but I remember everything
what have I become?
my sweetest friend

Johnny Cash

“A prayer can be a dangerous thing.” Someone at church said that to me when I was a kid. May have been a youth pastor, or someone, but it always struck me as an odd statement. But now, standing in a darkened corridor, over hearing the echoes of a tortured dance between captor and willing captive, I find that the only sound overtaking my senses more than a string of phantom whispers is that statement, replaying over and over in my mind.
“A prayer can be a dangerous thing.”
All I’d done was say a prayer for a man in trouble. Though maybe this prayer was a little different; maybe because I find myself breathing in something of the Spirit’s concern; if only for a moment, I actually care for this person, so I find myself here. In cold shadows. It’s the very place the desperate man is struggling to find a reason not to kill himself a little more.
He is before me. And though somehow I know he is oblivious to my presence, I am no less here than the couch he’s seated on. Or the stagnant air about us. Or the needle placed inches away from his trembling hands. The struggle I hear – that inexplicable strain that is fueling the tension in the room – the source of those phantom whispers, it is the man and the needle. They are speaking to one another. And I know needles don’t talk (I’m only a little crazy), but this needle is something more than an object. In a way, maybe it isn’t the needle whispering at all, but someone holding the needle. But I can’t see anyone holding the needle. It just lays there. Whispering.
“You need to do this, now.” it says.
The man doesn’t respond, but begins to shake just slightly. Despite the pale light of the room, I can see he is beginning to cry.
“Oh don’t worry, my dear.” says the needle. “I am right here.”
He reaches forward, caresses the plastic casing of the needle’s syringe. Something about the way he is touching, looking at it longingly, I know he’s missed it. He has the look of a man who sees his lover for the first time after a long departure. Or, more like a person drowning – the look he might have just as he realizes he can make it to the surface of the water, that he might breathe again. The man’s been holding his breath for months. He desperately needs to breathe in something, but his tears betray his reluctance.
“You’re going to kill me.” he stammers, barely forcing words out between sobs. He is no longer whispering; seems to be losing control, and something about the way he is crying; something about the pitiful way he is conversing with this object, it has given form to the deep pain he is feeling in a way that the air is thick with it. Desperate, intense, piercing pain is wafting about the room, and I find I too am beginning to cry, as a fragment of the man’s emotion grips my spine. And now I wish I was not here.
“A prayer can be a dangerous thing.”

Now, caught as I am in a vortex of the man’s anguish, I actually feel foolish for all the times, and they were many, when I dismissed him as unworthy of my consideration, knowing that this piercing moment and all the other moments like this he’s undoubtedly suffered, are brought on by his own foolishness. For looking at him there, I see something more than foolishness. There is grief of a kind which I thought him too shallow to carry.
Almost involuntarily, my heart for the man is expanding. And I feel as though I’ve been cut open from the inside, the compassion I bleed becoming something of a plea to the Throne. I sense this wordless prayer reaching Home, responded to by a timeless melody, and a hope, though woefully distant, is released. Like a tiny droplet of rain, it begins to fall from the heavens, and small as it is, bound to be tossed about by vicious winds, disassembled and reassembled many times by every gale force imaginable, truly nothing will keep it from its inevitable destination. Here. In the middle of a poor soul’s excruciating struggle.
He is picking up the needle, its syringe already loaded, and I desperately wish he would stop. Wish he knew I was here, thinking of him.
“Yes, dear one. I will make you OK again. I will make it go away forever and ever.” The needle’s speech is methodical, soothing.
He pauses, with his other hand picking up a homemade tourniquet.
“They are all going to hate me.” he says.
He’s probably right. After all that’s been invested in him, after every human resource has already been exhausted in a grand effort to keep him from places just like this, after the blood that’s been shed on his behalf, he will find no pity from those he used to hide in. Most everybody he knows will give up on him, if they haven’t already. Even I, days from this moment, after witnessing and sensing first hand the depth of his affliction, may find that my empathy grows thin, and my heart may abandon him forever. But for now at least, I am with him – willing him not to jab another loathsome needle into his arm.
“I just want to forget.” says the man, sputtering between sobs, fumbling with the tourniquet.
“Forget what?” A foreign voice enters the room, and I realize it is my own voice, strange in my ears compared to the dreamlike inflections of the man and the needle. He won’t hear me – won’t begin to know I am here with him.
“Forget what?” I say again, louder. Still no response as he lays hold of the syringe, lifting it toward his arm.
“We will forget it all, together.” I hear the needle say, and it sounds less consoling now than it did seconds prior – sounds more like a knife or a gun might sound if such things could speak, and perhaps it isn’t much different. Perhaps he might as well be lifting a knife or gun to his arm, or to his head or his heart.
“What are you trying to forget?” My repetitious plea fades into deafness within the dense chamber.
Needle breaks his skin, and I hear a rumble, outside in the distance. The man’s expression dulls almost instantly. For now, if only for a little while, he is forgetting whatever dreadful thing it is he’s desperate to evade, and I wonder why I am still here. I couldn’t stop him – didn’t even give him pause.
Then the distant rumble is followed by the sound of rain showers, and among them – among the millions of drops of rain falling relentlessly to the ground – the response to my wordless prayer swirls around; barely I hear it, singing a quiet song of freedom. I step outside, into the heavenly downpour, and though I am here while not really being here, the feel of the rain’s damp coolness upon the skin of my face is not diminished. It is refreshing, cleansing. I regret that the man – my friend, now passed out and drooling while his mind enters the needle’s world of numb – I regret that he cannot feel the rain himself. So I stand here, taking it for what it is, listening to the barely audible song of hope that swirls within the celestial rainstorm. The song’s distant cry of freedom.

For JS. He’s not abandoned you.



3 replies »

  1. Luke…

    Unreal. Just unreal. I don’t know if you know about my cousin Kyle, but this truly resonated with me because of him. He was trying to forget the war. Forget his brothers in arms who died the day their humvee got hit. None survived but him. He tried to forget the things he saw as a sharp shooter and a tower guard in the early years of the Iraq. PTSD , an undiagnosed TBI and civilian life didn’t go well together. That led to alcohol abuse, then heroine. Soon the VA intervened and finally gave him the treatment he needed after he tried to commit suicide, but they let him out too soon because they thought he was just “taking up a bed”. He died that night in a hotel room. PTSD drugs, alcohol and a needle. He was 27. This blog killed me. Thank you for writing it. I miss my cousin.

    You are one hell of a writer.

    • Thanks for the feedback, my friend. I am touched to know this found a home in you. The man in the story is a person who has struggled and caused my family trouble to no end, but I realized while writing that this person was a lot of people we know. It’s the kind of person who, if we are honest with ourselves, we have no hope for ever seeing “get better.” These same types of people that I’d probably be unwilling to give up a second of my time for…well, there are moments in the dark when I am overwhelmed by the Father’s compassion for them. And I am unsure of what to do except write about them.

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