I want to tell you about a book. A beautiful, wonderful, terrible, moving, life-altering little book. What I mean by that is, upon finishing it, I (an avid reader) couldn’t find another volume in my library which I felt could even begin to come near to the experience I’d just lived through.
Archives For death
Relax. No, I don’t have cancer, but it runs in my family. I’ve lost both a grandmother, and an uncle, to it. Because of this, despite not yet being fifty, I’m supposed to get an annual colonoscopy.
I’ve yet to have one.
The reason for this is simple, stupid, but nevertheless true: I’ve had a flexible sigmoidoscopy. What’s that, you ask?
A sigmoidoscopy is colonoscopy’s younger sibling (or maybe its second cousin, twice removed). All of the prep work is the same; meaning no food beginning 12-24 hours prior, stool softeners, and that lovely Cascara, which is like drinking chalk-flavored Gatorade.
In case you missed that, one’s mission–whether one accepts it, or not–is to self-induce diarrhea in advanced of undergoing the procedure. On purpose.
People died of diarrhea during the Civil War!
In any case, while the preparations are similar, there is one crucial difference between the flex sig and a full colonoscopy; namely, that a colonoscopy is done under general anesthesia, whereas the sigmoidoscopy is done fully awake.
Yes, you read that right: it’s done entirely conscious. And while both are out patient procedures, the former is usually done in a hospital, while the latter can be done in one’s doctor’s office.
If my understanding is correct, the prevailing medical thought is that because the flexible sigmoidoscopy doesn’t go as far into the colon, it’s less a pain in the butt, and can consequently be done awake.
Let that sink in.
One reports to one’s doctor’s office, after having quite literally crapped one’s guts out, to lie prone upon a table, in a too-cold room, with nothing but a paper gown on to ward off the chill. The doctor enters, with a nurse, because like the boy and girl scouts this requires two-deep leadership (it wouldn’t do to have anything untoward occur). And then, without so much as a by-your-leave (or even dinner), lube is lugubriously applied to a region reserved as an exit only zone. After that, a long tube, at a snail’s pace, is inserted. All the while, the nurse is encouraging relaxation; “just breathe,” she says.
Relaxation is about the farthest thing from one’s mind at that point. It’s more like grin and bear it–or grimace and bear it. One of the two. The best that can happen is an uneasy peace; it’s not going to last forever, or one will die right there of embarrassment.
There is after all a long, dark tube right up there in the Hershey Highway.
But the worst is yet to come:
Air, like helium into party balloons, is pumped up in there so that the doctor may better appreciate the structures of the lower bowel. Only it’s no party; it’s quite literally a pain in the butt. And beyond.
As a patient, whether one can, or cannot, see the monitor upon which the Colon Cam is displayed, one’s doctor will typically begin a descriptive video service. (Nowhere did this item ever even begin to appear on my bucket list: have your sigmoid colon described in vivid detail by your doctor). “That’s a hemorrhoid! There’s another one! Good! Don’t see any polyps! Oh, look! A piece of poo!”
If one felt embarrassed before, that right there would be where the bottom fell out of the nadir of embarrassment. Oh, to melt through the table, into the floor, and be no more! Curse this too, too solid flesh!
Then at last it’s over, one is handed tissues to wipe off the thick, viscous jelly from one’s nethers; the doctor and nurse exuent omnes, and one is left to contemplate the series of events leading to this tube time and place.
Wiping, washing, and dressing complete, one is free to leave; breathing a sigh (or several) of relief, thinking the worst is behind you.
Oh, how wrong that is!
The air pumped up in there, no longer having a tube occluding its exit route, discovers the point of least resistance–namely, one’s anus. If the blow-by-blow of the colon highway was the bottom dropping out of the nadir of the experience this is somehow even lower.
It’s not just a little gas; it’s like the inevitable results of a weeklong refried bean binge, the Vesuvius of anal expulsions (think pyroclastic flow–all hot ash and gas, no lava), and the Manhattan Project all rolled into one. In other words, “I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.” Yet other than death there is no escaping these noxious emissions.
And that, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is why I have yet to have a full colonoscopy. The defense rests. I place myself upon the mercy of the court.
Have you had a colonoscopy/sigmoidoscopy? How did it go?
Looking in the mirror and what do I see?
Whose is this face staring back at me?
Familiar in outline, but foreign in detail
Craggy, careworn features all over prevail
But who is he?
Is this me?
Inside, he feels the same small boy
Curious, quick, and ruddy of mind
Rich inside life bringing joy
But somewhere, having lost track of time
The visage reflected, as in a mirror darkly
Yet somehow still so very, very starkly
Shows one thing above all others:
The face is
Today, I woke with thoughts of Lazarus in my head. To my knowledge, I myself have never been, you know, dead. The neurons are still firing up in my head. At least I’d like to think so. We’ll leave that for you, gentle reader, to decide.
“Lazarus, come forth.” It wasn’t a suggestion, but a command. This was clearly a miracle performed to show those in Bethany (where Jesus had spent so much time) that the Lord had power death. We understand that. We also understand the grief, the sense of loss, Mary, Martha, and Jesus himself felt over Lazarus’s demise. Yet this also was a command which would not have been necessary had Jesus come sooner, had healed Lazarus as he’d healed so many others.
Yet he didn’t.
Dare we impugn Lazarus? Was he lacking in faith? He knew the Lord–saw him–in ways we ourselves do not, and cannot, now know him. Yes, he lives inside. Lazarus knew him, ate with him, laughed with him, loved him.
Yet Jesus let him die.
What a letdown this was for everybody. Mary, Martha, their family, friends, the people of Bethany who knew what Jesus could do, what he had done. They knew, they saw. And yet here was one of his closest friends laid in a tomb, mouldering after three days (“I’m a servant of the Lord! Look what it’s done for me!”).
And if Lazarus, beloved of Jesus, was allowed to die what does this say of us? It seems that, rather than our best lives now, often the beloved of the Lord suffer great hardships, great losses, even die, before the miracles happen. The Christian life is, and this is not original to me, about death:
Jesus’s death on the cross, our respective deaths to ourselves. For it is in dying that we live. The lesson of Lazarus then is that while, yes, God can (and does) heal He doesn’t always. We don’t know why, except that we know him, have experienced his character–that he is good. So the lesson is that even (and sometimes especially) death can be redeemed. Somehow out of death–death to ourselves, expectations, plans–life arises.
Death often precedes the miraculous, the numinous, intruding into the courses of our everyday lives. Why is this? Only God knows.
All that we can do is lay down the gift (life) which God has given each of us back at his feet from whence it originated.
Only then can we truly live. And like Lazarus, we will live again.
Believest thou this?
The following comes from Grace Hill Media, a company whose mission is to connect Hollywood and the faith community by marketing movies that uplift, inspire, and transform. Of those, this week I have partnered with Grace Hill to highlight The Conjuring 2. At first blush, scary movies and Christianity may not seem to go together, but I don’t think that’s true. Let’s peel back the skin, shall we?
At it’s heart, Christianity is a religion of blood sacrifice: Jesus was brutally tortured, and suffered a hideous death at the hands of sinful men. And that’s a horror story if there ever was one. In fact, the Bible pulls no punches in its depiction of evil. Billy Graham once said that one of things which makes it God’s Word is that shows us (humanity) as we are. So all of human depravity is on display. Likewise, I think we do the world a disservice when we go soft on the depiction of evil in our media. I think there’s a distinction, and a vast difference, between movies like the Friday the 13th series, for instance, and films like The Conjuring. In the one, the audience is all but made to root for the killer, Jason Voorhees; in the other, evil is shown for what it is. Moreover, that evil cannot overcome good, that is to say God. In one, evil is reveled in, celebrated; in the other, it is exposed. Is that not what we as believers are called to do? Bring light into dark places?
Beyond that, in the words of director Scott Derrickson, “horror is the genre of non-denial,” e.g., it brings us face-to-face with that which we fear the most: the unknown, death, etc. The monsters are metaphor for our fears, and movies (books, too) give a safe space to vicariously face our fears. Usually, it is in horror that the veil is rent asunder–there is no denying the supernatural. Evil is a force that is real, but we can resist. Good can, and does, triumph.
I understand that others may come to a different conclusion; I respect that. But please don’t slag on my enjoyment of things that go bump in the night. With that I’ll leave you, and turn you over to Grace Hill’s parent’s guide:
With THE CONJURING 2 in theaters this Friday, it’s only natural to think about scary movies. For some of us, the thoughts are about avoiding them at all costs, but for others there’s excitement at thinking about getting a good scare from our theater seats.
But what about our kids? Especially at younger ages, they can be truly disturbed if they happen to see something onscreen that frightens them. It may not even be a well-made supernatural horror film like THE CONJURING 2 – certainly not for pre-teens – but could be something they see in one of their favorite cartoons that raises fears.
What can you do as a parent when this happens to your son or daughter? Here are a few tips from the experts at Focus on the Family:
- The first thing you need to do is sit down with your child and give them the chance to discuss the film openly. Ask them what they saw, what they thought about it, and how it made them feel. Whatever you do, don’t make light of their fears or dismiss their feelings as silly or immature.
- Once their emotions have been aired, assure your son or daughter that this was only a story, just like the imaginary tales they may have seen in picture story books. Bad things weren’t happening to real people – they were actors playing a pretend game, like they and their friends do.
- Reassure your child that you, as their parent, are dedicated to protecting them. Let them know that it is one of your most important jobs – ensuring they feel safe and are safe. Reinforce that message with plenty of hugs.
- If you are a Christian family, you can explain that God has promised to be with them at all times, even in the midst of danger. Open up the Bible and show them the passages where God promises never to leave us or forsake us (Genesis 28:15; Deuteronomy 31:6, 8; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5). Pray with them about the scary movie and their fears, and encourage them to pray on their own when they become frightened at night. If it seems appropriate, you can also practice some coping techniques with them, like deep breathing relaxation exercises or visualizing a happy place.
- One last thought: it is definitely not a good idea for you to sleep in your child’s room or to let them sleep in your bed. That will only reinforce the behavior you’re trying to eliminate, encouraging them to act helpless and dependent. So whatever happens, make it clear that you will not be sleeping with them. Instead, find some other way to make them feel secure, like turning on a nightlight for a while or letting them take a special stuffed animal to bed.
Come to think of it, if you go see THE CONJURING 2 and you’re still a little scared even after the credits roll, feel free to take your favorite stuffed animal to bed with you, too.