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Good Shepherd or No Shepherd?

By Klym ~

I am sitting here typing on my keyboard with only my left, non-dominant hand. It's quite a challenge, I must admit, after spending sixty years using my right hand to do most everything. At this very moment, my husband and I should be on a jet, flying to Florida to spend the night and then leaving tomorrow for a seven day cruise in the Caribbean. But, here I sit, with my right arm in a cast, broken in two places, with one surgery behind me and another surgery looming in my future. All because two weeks ago when I was on my daily walk/run through my lovely neighborhood, I tripped on a curb and landed on my right elbow and my face. After a lifetime of daredevil activities, including water & snow skiing, hiking in mountains, river rafting, zip-lining in tropical forests, hot-air ballooning, and a blue belt in Taekwondo, I was downed by the edge of a concrete driveway in cahoots with gravity!! Ironic, huh?

A couple of days before my unfortunate accident, I attended the funeral of a very dear friend's dad. I dreaded it, because the deceased attended the southern Baptist church I was brought up in, and which I have not set foot in for 33 years. Luckily his service was in a chapel at a local funeral home--whew! But still, I knew I would have to listen to Baptist babbling about eternal life, the pearly gates, being saved, etc. So I set my jaw firmly, sat down in the front of the chapel, and prepared to be insulted and belittled by fundamentalist theology. All for the love of my friend who had just lost her 91 year old father, who, in spite of being a lifelong Baptist, was one of the kindest, gentlest, and sweetest men I ever knew. Somehow he missed out on the memo that his religion called for him to be a narrow minded, bigoted, judgmental prick, because he was the antithesis of the typical Baptist fundamentalist man here in the Bible Belt. He was a true gentleman in every way.

The minister who officiated the service used the 23rd Psalm as the basis for his message. As far as the Bible goes, this is one of my favorite passages. The metaphor of the shepherd protecting his sheep is a comforting one and creates a lovely mental picture in my mind. The preacher explained it from the sheep's point of view. He was mostly kind in his assessment of Jesus being the loving shepherd. Of course, he had to point out that the deceased had accepted Jesus as his Savior at the age of 16, so we were all assured that his name was written in the "Book of Life" and that he was now in Heaven with Jesus. He never commented on whether the deceased was enjoying eternity with his first wife, who died 20 years earlier, or his second wife, who he married a few years after the first wife died. He did say that the deceased, whose favorite pastime was playing dominoes, had probably already challenged god to a couple of games.

Other than the three hymns that were played, which were filled with Jesus' blood shedding, and having to walk past the open casket at the end, it was a fairly painless farewell. If I were still a believer, I would have left feeling comforted by my shepherd.

Instead I left feeling sad (of course) and a bit amused that anyone still believes that Psalm 23 is anything more than a fairy tale. It's a lovely piece of literature, sure; but when all is said and done, my friend's dad is dead, and she will have to learn to live in the world without him. There is no Good Shepherd and human beings are not sheep. Death comes to all, whether their name is in the Book of Life or not.

A few days later, I fell and broke my arm. All my friends and family rallied around me to offer me comfort and encouragement. Everyone was especially sad that I had to cancel the cruise my husband and I had planned months ago in order to celebrate my recent retirement from public school teaching and counseling. I always buy travel insurance, so we at least lost only about 200 dollars on a several thousand dollar trip. We will plan another cruise when i get well and back on my feet again.

I only had two people say that I broke my arm for a "reason". One of my cousins said maybe I wasn't supposed to be on that ship, or maybe the plane might crash. My husband's doctor that he sees for his hearing loss told him that I broke my arm because us going on that cruise "was not meant to be." When my husband returned from the doctor's office with that news, I just had to laugh out loud. I told my husband that there was no deep, dark mysterious "reason" why I broke my arm. It was a random accident caused by me walking way too fast and not paying attention. If I had lifted my right foot only one inch higher, I would not have fallen and I would be on that plane to Florida instead of sitting here typing an article for Ex-C.

Do I wish I could hit the rewind button and change the course of past events? You're damn right I do! Do I wish I had walked on home that day instead of deciding to power walk for ten more minutes? You betcha! But, I didn't. I decided to continue walking---to keep my heart rate up for a few more minutes---and I fell down, HARD!!! My momentum was such that I had no time to respond--I landed on my left knee, my right elbow, and then my face, chipped off the edge of a front tooth, busted my top lip, and shredded the huge protective sunglasses I had on, thankfully, over my prescription glasses. It was cold, so I had on several layers of clothing which also prevented the skin on my left knee from being ripped open. Instead it was just badly bruised.

For about 48 hours after my first surgery to fix the two broken bones below my elbow, I was in severe pain. I thought about the "good shepherd" and how it would be nice to believe in his protection and presence. But, I don't believe in any of that anymore, and to be honest, I did fine on my own. Was I scared and did I cry a few times? Yes, but I trusted in the pain pills, and the nerve block, my doctor prescribed and I took the pills faithfully, and as time passed, the pain began to subside and my fears quieted. My husband and my friends and family brought good food to eat and encouraging words to sustain me. Everyone pitched in to make sure I was never alone during the critical hours of my recovery. That sure beat the heck out of depending on an imaginary shepherd to watch over me!

I left feeling sad and a bit amused that anyone still believes that Psalm 23 is anything more than a fairy tale.Anyway, I am grateful that I was not injured worse than I was. Everyone keeps telling me how much worse it could have been. I have thought a lot about the good shepherd and how, if I were still a Christian, I might view my accident differently. Would I believe that there was a Divine purpose for my fall? Would I think the shepherd had been protecting me from some future unforeseen calamity? Would I thank God for making this miserable broken arm a part of his life plan for me? It's interesting to contemplate.

I do believe that each experience in life is an opportunity to grow and to learn from. This accident has brought to the forefront my taking for granted being able to do everything with my right arm and hand working in sync with the rest of my body. Simple daily habits have become major challenges.

I am fiercely independent and I have had to let that go. I'm learning that it's OK to accept help from others. This is not at all easy for me. I have had the good fortune to have been in good health all my life. Being temporarily disabled is something I never thought much about. It is a humbling experience.

In summary, I've concluded that there is no good, bad, or indifferent shepherd looking out for us. And, surprisingly, I am OK with that. I LIKE randomness better---A WHOLE LOT BETTER! Living life one day at a time, doing the best we can, treating other beings on this planet with respect and dignity---seems to me the best and most sane way to live out our limited time here on earth. Besides, I'm not a sheep or a lamb anyway---although I do enjoy wearing wool sweaters every now and then!