This is Part of Elizabeth’s story about ‘Believing Christian Science’.
It’s 1993, and I’m nineteen years old. I am a Christian Scientist–something that is very important to me. I live with my family, and I’m driving to my college class. I am looking at the road ahead of me, and the familiar traffic light is green, which it never is, and I’m pleasantly surprised but sure it will turn red before I get to it. For some reason there is plenty of time today; I’m at the intersection and it’s just turned yellow. I maintain my speed just under the limit of 50 mph. I’m not wearing my seat belt.
Everything is always in its right place.
I see the black car then. It had been stopped at the intersection, but it starts to turn in front of me. “Why is he turning, what is he doing?” I stomp on the brakes but this won’t happen, I will not be in a car accident, God will stop this, and I scream “ahhhhhhhOOH” as I’m thrown forward and my head cracks the windshield, but I don’t even realize what has happened to me until afterwards, at that instant, all I know is impact, a jerk, a smack!
When I wake I look in the rearview mirror and see my forehead growing visibly, all purply-blue and rounded like a china doll’s forehead, with one scary wet reddish mark in the middle, off-center to the left. My vision is affected, trails stream behind everything I look at. Now I am aware that my knees hurt. My ribs hurt. It feels like my body is coming back to life from somewhere far away.
There is no sensation in matter. All is infinite mind, and its infinite manifestation, for God is all-in-all.
A nice man is at the driver’s side window; another driver, a witness. I can’t understand how to open my window. He opens my car door carefully, powers down the window, and clicks the door carefully shut without slamming it. He feels my pulse, he tells me, “You took a good hit to the head, sweetheart. Lay back and relax until the cops get here.”
It matters not what be thy lot, so love doth guide. Through storm or shine, pure peace is thine, what ’ere betide.
I look at the turquoise hood of my car pushed up in front of the windshield, blocking the street from view. I play halfheartedly with the paneling of the broken dashboard that is pushed out by the impact. I look at my deformed face in the mirror again, my nose now bleeding slowly and swelled up like Miss Piggy’s, blocking my eyes partially from view.
When the illusion of sickness or sin tempts you, cling steadfastly to God and His idea. Allow nothing but His likeness to abide in your thought.
The paramedics surround my car. They are talking to each other and one of them is talking to me but I don’t understand what she is saying. She is gesturing to a gurney thing and the ambulance beyond. I am supposed to go to the hospital now. That is not an option. I have to explain this to them.
“I don’ wan’ go haspa.”
They don’t hear me and continue making preparations to extract me from the car. I try again, in what I think will come out in a loud and clear voice, but doesn’t:
“I don’ wan’ go tha haspita.”
This time, the paramedic closest to me understands, but interprets my announcement as delusional and pays me no mind other than to say something reassuring to me in more of the loud language which for some reason I cannot make out. I realize that things are moving beyond my control and I feel a vivid panic, ten times more vivid than the pain. If these people take me to the hospital, it will ruin everything, I will not be a Christian Scientist anymore. I have to stop this. I have to just get back home where it’s safe and we all agree on the rules. I summon my wits and say loudly and slowly:
“I AM A CRISSIN ZIANISS. I DON’ GO THA HOSPITAS AN DOCTORS.”
The group of paramedics stills. Their manner becomes somehow mournful and remote at the same time. They ask me three times if I am sure. They tell me that I have a head injury, a brain injury, most likely a fractured skull, do I understand? One good-looking young man is more bold: “God knows what other internal injuries you have. You’re making the wrong decision.”
Stand porter at the door of thought. Admitting only such conclusions as you wish realized in bodily results, you will control yourself harmoniously.
I must sign a release stating that I denied treatment at the scene. Yes, yes, I’ll sign. There is another flurry of upset at the condition of my legs when I’m removed from the car; they are huge and stiff around the knees. The paramedics load me into the back of a police cruiser which will bring me back to the station to phone my dad to come and get me. It is difficult to get me into the police car; they lay me down. The cop driving me back to the station is disgusted with me and with my father when he arrives to pick me up. “Look at her legs! And she could have skull fragments loose in her head.”
On the drive home my clearly shaken father tells me that the material picture is very bad and that he supports my decision to go to the hospital if that is what I choose. This surprises me. I don’t want to go back to the unfamiliar world of the paramedics and the bright yellows and reds and whites, where strangers might tell me that my legs are broken and my head is broken. I want familiar people to tell me familiar things about how the car accident didn’t happen in Divine Science. I sing my favorite hymn to myself from childhood, in my head:
Everlasting arms of love
Are beneath, around, above
God it is who bears us on
His the arm we lean upon
When we get home, everyone who meets me looks scared. My stepmother cuts off my jeans, which is the only option, and my knees are hideously discolored and swollen. My kneecaps are in the wrong place, too low down and out to the sides. My head feels like it weighs a hundred pounds, and hurts in every way imaginable. My torso feels like it is in a dull vise grip. When I change into pajamas in my room I find dark bruises in the shape of the steering wheel imprinted on me from my breastbone to my thighs.
I emerge to overhear a quiet, worried conversation between my father and my Christian Scientist-convert stepmother. She is telling him that you are not supposed to let someone with a concussion go to sleep, and that I appear to maybe have something worse than just a concussion, and his respectful response is that yes, but if we are not treating this medically, then that has to be taken as irrelevant. I agree with this logic.
Almost as soon as I’m settled in with pajamas and blanket on the couch in the family room, the family practitioner visits, and we all sit together, and my dad and the practitioner tell me that although the practitioner is the one praying for my healing, this is considered a serious situation by my family, the practitioner, and our branch church, and that my dad and some members of the church will be working to support the practitioner and the healing, and they explain how that’s different than having several people praying for me at once.
The practitioner talks with me about the guiding precepts he is using in this case. They are familiar to me and seem relevant to what has happened. I feel very supported. When the practitioner leaves everyone agrees that I should try to rest and get some sleep. I fall asleep with an awareness that to do so is unwise, but I’m just so glad to have my heavy head on a pillow and I don’t care.
Keep thou, my child, on upward wing, tonight.