By Dan Haag
I admit to being somewhat of a cynic. I need tangible proof that I can see and touch before I believe most things. Taking things on faith is not how I’m built.
Nothing sets off my cynic alarm faster than the recent outpourings of “Thoughts and Prayers” after every national tragedy.
It’s not that I hold a grudge against people feeling helpless to act and looking for some way to respond. If “Thoughts and Prayers” is all they could offer, go for it. My gripe was that it was becoming everyone’s go-to response, an easy out that absolved the sender of concrete action.
I felt the overuse of “Thoughts and Prayers” would soon render it meaningless.
I clung doggedly to that feeling until Tuesday evening, March 27.
Tillamook Hospital called to let my wife know her mother and her mother’s partner had been in a horrific car accident and were clinging to life in a Portland ICU.
Soon I was sitting dazedly in a hospital waiting room surrounded by sights, sounds and smells that only a hospital can provide: the woman across from me hugging two small children and weeping quietly; the faint beep of various monitors; the vague scent of stale coffee overlaid with an unidentifiable, nauseating antiseptic scent.
Doctors and nurses shuffled to and fro, some in an obvious hurry, others not so much. Sometimes they stopped to talk softly with a distraught relative, other times it seemed they did their best to avoid eye contact with anyone.
Someone knocked over a collection of clip boards at the nearby nurse’s station. It echoed like a gun shot but no one so much as flinched. No one had the energy.
I became fixated on a janitor down the hall who seemed to be concentrating the efforts of his mop on one specific area in front of him. He rocked slowly back and forth and that rhythmic motion, coupled with the strange sepia tone of the hallway, reminded me of the music video for Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”
The helplessness of hospital waiting rooms is abysmally infinite. The whole setting is meant to be comforting, I suppose, but comes about as close to that feeling as dry-shaving with a cheese grater.
I sat impotently, knowing there was not a single thing I could do or say for my wife as she waited at her mother’s bedside. Beyond telling her “I love you” over and over again or asking her if she needed anything every 30 seconds, I was about as useless as the “g” in “lasagna.”
So I decided to talk a walk and shake loose the cobwebs of the last 48 hours.
My phone pinged and I glanced down to see a text from a friend: “Thinking of you and Janell, sending you thoughts and prayers.”
Sometimes it takes a mountain falling on your head to make you understand something: in that moment, I realized how good it felt to read those words. Someone was taking time out of their day to think about us. They had put aside whatever they were doing – work, family, vacation – to spare us a loving thought.
It was a slender, strong, spiritual lifeline. I grabbed it with both hands and held on tight.
Throughout the night, that line grew thicker as friends and family sent more thoughts and prayers out in the atmosphere and into of my phone. They came in all shapes, sizes, and iterations: loving vibes, good karma, hugs, kisses, heart emojis, toasts, promises of lit candles, and more. I could feel my shoulders unclench and – for lack of a better term – my “aura” brighten ever so slightly. Janell smiled for the first time in what seemed like decades.
I understand that I’ll always be a cynic. But I also understand that I don’t always need to understand.
So keep sending the thoughts and prayers wherever they need to go.
Someone will always need them.
And someone is always listening.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Dan Haag’s mother-in-law, Carolyn, and her partner, Bill, were in the accident on Hwy. 101 at MP 45 (Fisher’s Point corner) on Tuesday, March 27th. Both have multiple serious injuries and remain in ICU.
We have not received the official report on this accident from the Sheriff’s office or Oregon State Police. We will provide the information as soon as it is available.