For we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. – Romans 8:26
When his body died at twenty-four, his soul became an orphan in a foreign land. Stranded, a souring soul in a body called ‘quadriplegic.’ Death always seems so harsh, so cruel, so uncalled for, but half-death is the cruelest sting of all.
When I had known Gary as a high school student, he was the athlete, the scholar, the leader, the one who encapsulated words like grace, class, and style. He was one of those young men who made catching a football look so effortless, study look so unnecessary, and leadership look so natural. He was the All-American, high school Mr. Everything: the kind of kid everyone wanted to be yet were content simply to share.
I was Gary’s refuge, the friend with whom he could relax his Mr. Everything image and be just Mr. Regular Guy with. Popcorn was our common weakness, ping-pong our common challenge. We met two or three times a week to play, but ours was not just the regular, friendly game of ping-pong; ours was the ping-pong of the fast serving, hard slamming, high curving, back spinning variety, the kind that leaves your tired, breathless and wet, needing a real rest. We challenged and pushed each other to bring out the other’s strength, and, in the process, also grew to share each other’s weaknesses. In time, Gary became the younger brother I never had.
On his 24th birthday an appropriate celebration was called for, so Gary planned a swimming party with some friends. A couple of kegs of beer were the natural order of the day. From late afternoon until early morning the celebration included chips and beer, dancing and beer, burgers and beer, and swimming and beer. Early into the new day after a deep dive in the shallow end of the pool someone noticed that Gary failed to surface. Friends who went in after him found him lying on the bottom of the pool. Aided by internal prayer, unconditional bargaining with anyone’s god, and CPR, Gary finally regained his breath only to realize that he had lost feeling in his arms and legs.
I met him at the hospital to share a long night of hoping, followed by weeks of impatient waiting, months of physical therapy, and a quick, short diagnosis – Gary was a quadriplegic; the loss of feeling in his arms and legs would not return.
When he had first been in the hospital, we talked, hoped, and cried the days and nights away. We reminisced of ping-pong and popcorn, high school football games, and group pillow fights. Sometime during the third night of reminiscent, trivial conversation, Gary interrupted my chatter. “Rod,” he whispered, “pray for me.”
“Gary I will. What do you want me to say? What should I pray for?”
“Pray for pain.”
And I did, because I realized that pain is a gift, and the body or the soul that feels no pain is truly dead.
Prayer: Lord, lead us to turn to you from our depth and pray to you from out deepest hope.