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Jewish Journeys: The Religious Nutcase

May 8, 2014
by Nancy Slonim Aronie Jesus tallOn my way in to visit my son Dan at the hospital, I always felt compelled to look into the room right before his. Maybe it was because the boy inside was young like my boy, maybe it was that he had a mass of dark hair just like Dan’s, or maybe it was because the body always seemed to be in the exact same position. But I think it was because there was a beautiful woman (his mother I later found out) sitting reading a book (the Bible I later found out), lips moving, head down, blonde hair falling across her impeccable Talbots dresses, her high heels, her stillness. The first thing she said to me was God knows every hair on Dan’s head every cell in his body every thought in his mind. I remember thinking; Uh oh, religious nutcase. I put on a pleasant, I-am-not-a-judgmental-person face and tried to memorize her words so I could do a Saturday Night Live bit when my husband showed up later. Do you believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ? she asked one day as we both had to vacate our sons’ rooms while the nurses with dayglo yellow hazmat suits went in to administer the drugs that they told us were keeping our boys alive. I said, “Actually Jesus was one of our guys and I believe in everything, Jane. I believe in Buddha and Moses and Ram Dass and The Tin Man and Judy Blume and Oprah and Crop Circles.” One day I suggested we go down to the cafeteria for coffee. No, Jane said, she couldnt leave her son. He might wake up. It had been three months since his stroke, at 24, after graduating in film from Emerson College. We would sit by the plastic holiday decorations while I told her of my Jewish Christmas Envy and she told me about her divorce. She told me how being Born Again was sustaining her and how she was sure Charlie would get better. She gave me copies of the films he had made at school and I gave her stories Dan had written at Bard. My husband and I would sometimes escape for an hour to gulp fresh air and walk among the throngs of people who weren’t watching their children slip away. Jane says Charlie prays with me and I say don’t mention god to Dan. And Jane says Romans 10.9, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. And I inwardly roll my eyes. When your loved ones are in the hospiial for weeks and weeks and weeks, the place is like a retreat where intimacy reigns, where secrets spill and friendships form. I begin to see her passion and her devotion as powerful and beautiful. I appreciate that she doesn’t preach; she just quotes. One night she summons me out of Dan’s room and tells me they have decided to pull the plug. I hold her in my arms and we sob like the sisters we have become. The next morning I arrive at the hospital before sunrise. The room next door is dark. On my way home that night I say Okay God you let Charlie die, so now you have to let Dan live. Whoa. Am I talking to God? Have I always talked to God? Yes . . . I have always talked to God. I just never thought of myself as a religious nutcase. And you know what? Turns out Jane isn’t one either. Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing From The Heart (Hyperion/Little Brown), is an NPR commentator and founded the Chilmark Writing Workshop on Martha’s Vineyard.