Yesterday I had my last required post-operative follow up from having broken my right wrist in October. I had a chat with the physician assistant, who said everything looked well. The x-ray showed that the repair hardware (a titanium plate and a dozen screws) was all in good position and hadn’t shifted, and my range of motion was good. Although things are not yet perfect (I still have occasional pain, some reduced sensation in my thumb and first two fingers), things are trending in the right direction. What I was told was the following:
We don’t think you need to see us regularly any more, but call if something feels wrong, or if you have questions. Dr. R (the ortho trauma surgeon, who also fixed my knee in 2013) would probably refer you to a hand specialist if you needed further work. Otherwise, I hope we only meet up in the supermarket. [Twice with the ortho trauma guys counts you as a “frequent flyer”.] It’s up to you from here on out.
That works for me. Between my surgeon and his staff, and two really great occupational therapists (one a Certified Hand Therapist), I’m on my way to a great recovery. But I have to do most of it from here on out. Good people have taught me the exercises I need to do, they’ve helped me read the warning signs in case anything isn’t as it should be. They’ve helped me past the worst of the pain, but are glad I don’t need heavy duty painkillers any more. Now it’s my job to figure out the right balance of exercise and rest, what is safe to do under what conditions (I can lift about 8 pounds safely in a bag of groceries; pouring boiling water from a full kettle still feels iffy). And, of course, for me, the hard part is having the patience for a recovery that could still take up to two years post-operation.
I worked hard at my rehab: I went to the clinic two or three times a week, asked questions, learned the exercises, met other people in the clinic and both encouraged them and received encouragement from them. I put together my own mini-studio so I could work at home, even after my formal time with therapy was over. I read up on my condition (the Colles’, or distal radial fracture), to know what had happened and how, and to learn what to expect as my healing progressed. I am about as knowledgeable about my condition as a lay person can be.
My church journey, I’m finding, is a lot like my fracture journey. I affiliated with the Episcopal Church shortly after a major life-fracture, my mother’s death when she was 58 and I was 27. I participated enthusiastically, learned as much about the institution and its requirements as possible, gave and received encouragement. I shared what I had learned with others. I poured my heart and soul into it. I became about as knowledgeable concerning church as any lay person has a reasonable expectation of becoming.
But church wasn’t as kind and concerned as my surgeon or my occupational therapists. There was never the formal release saying, “we’ve done as much as we can, call us if you need us, but we really hope not to see you any more.” At least not in any positive way. There was a lot of rejection when I’ve tried to offer the church the talents I’ve spent years (and not a small amount of money) developing, and little explanation why.
But after years of applying for jobs in church and academic theology, and little real result (the two “big” breaks turned out to be more spiritually damaging than any broken bone can be physically harmful), I now know that what I’m being told is, “We really hope not to see you again. We don’t need you. You’re on your own now.” At least, we don’t want the “you” you’ve become. We don’t want you as a lay person with a lot of theological credentials. And we certainly don’t want anyone who does any critical reflection that tells us that the church isn’t perfect and wonderful.
And so, I’m on my own. I know the exercises, I have the equipment. I know they’re there in case of emergency, but I’m not sure going back voluntarily is the best thing. If I meet churchy people in the supermarket, I’ll say hi, ask how things are going, be polite, wish them well–and maybe, if I’m feeling really cheeky, ask them when they’ll be well enough to leave the spiritual rehab clinic which is the church.
About eight years ago, I interviewed the chaplain of a prestigious “public” (which in US parlance means “private”) school affiliated with the Church of England. I had shadowed him for a couple of days, and was even invited to give the chapel talk one morning. He wisely said that he didn’t expect any of the students to become regular church attenders, despite the mandatory chapel services and his generally great relationships with these young people. Instead, he thought it made more sense to help them to understand the church as something into which they could dip into and out of, that would be there when they needed it, and should express their appreciation by supporting it so it would have a continued presence in whatever community they found themselves. And although there might never be a lot of people needing the church all at once, it meant that there would always be a small number who needed it at any given time, and there had to be people who dedicated themselves to being available in times of need.
Much like my hospitals, surgeons’ offices, and physical and occupational therapy clinics. Everyone doesn’t need it at once, but all might need it at some point.
Maybe getting better and getting out really is the point of church, anyway, and the whole “No Exit”, where once in/never out is the norm, is something Jesus never meant the church to be.