By Erick Erickson
I had not actually had a stroke, but a steady, slow accumulation of blood clots in my lungs to such an extent the doctors decided to treat me as if I had a stroke. They pumped tissue plasminogen activator into my body for a day before moving to other blood thinners.
I do not say lightly or hyperbolically that I should be dead. I just happen to be reminded of it regularly. The damage done to my lungs was, in small ways, permanent because of the length of time between passing the clots and discovering them. Occasionally now the wall of my chest cavity swells, presenting the same symptoms of passing clots. I have found myself in the emergency room several times since last year. Each time, except the most recent time, the attending physician always tells me he has never seen a case so bad where the patient lived. “You should be dead,” the doctor most often says.
This last time, a month or two ago, the doctor said to me, “Well, I’ve seen worse than that,” before laughing and saying, “no actually, I haven’t. You’re supposed to be dead. You know that right?”
The cadence and rhythm of middle of the night trips to the emergency room and plain statements that I am supposed to be dead try often to pull me into a psychological melancholy. Yes, I get it. I am supposed to be dead. Really and with no hyperbole, I should not be here to type this.
When I first got into the ICU, the doctor on the floor saw my scan just outside the door, oblivious to me in the room. “Have you taken this body to the morgue,” he asked the nurse. “That would be me,” I shouted out to him laughing. I do not really laugh about it any more. What I thought was a laughing matter very nearly put me on the other side of eternity from my family.
The punchline to the whole sordid affair was finding out my wife has a rare form of lung cancer only a week after I got out of the hospital.
The last three hundred sixty-five days changed just about everything in my life. Protestors showed up at our home. The sponsors of this website were boycotted. My radio advertisers were harassed. The various career building opportunities I had in the media largely disappeared. My kids were yelled at by random strangers. They would come home from school upset because kids would ask them if their dad was going to get murdered or did they know how much the other kids’ parents hated their dad, etc. We stopped going to church because the conversations became uncomfortable and political.
I became more and more mindful that if I kicked the bucket, the best way for my kids to learn about their dad would be through Google and let’s just say we have a rule in our house that the kids are not allowed to google me. In fact, last year in their school the computer teacher used me as the example for doing online research. It was the first time she’d ever googled a parent and lived to regret it.
Sure, I have done my fair share of things I regret, but other things people wish I regret and dial it up to 11 in google searches trying to make me regret it. This past year hit home that some things are worth not caring about. What other people think about me is one of them. Another is what unmarried, childless people think I should or should not do in my life. Truth be told, this past year forced me to reprioritize things and see some things differently.
I don’t care about politics as much as I once did. I work in politics, by and large, but I care far less about it now than I once did. It does not seem as consequential as it did a year and a day ago. I care vastly much more about culture and the church than about a group of sinners running government. They all suck in reality. I no longer have time to get emotionally invested in some smooth talking jackass with a ten point plan to fix America who, when given the opportunity, is not really going to do it. America is temporary. It’s not that I don’t care at all. It’s just that having very nearly died, I now realize there are far fewer hills worth dying on than there once were.
I now live my life more focused on what is immediately around me than what is in Washington. We go every three months to hear a doctor tell us whether my wife’s cancer is shrinking or growing. I go to the gym and walk, rebuilding lungs that used to work fine and now do not. I get people home from work two hours every day talking to them about the news of the day, a voice keeping them company while they are stuck in traffic. And I spend a great deal of time talking to my kids about life, the world, and how to put their faith ahead of the pressures of the world.
I watch more TV now. I still work far more than I should. But now I try to force myself to step back and away and check out a bit more.
Today is Good Friday. This Good Friday has far more meaning to me than any Good Friday has had in my life. Since I started writing at RedState in 2004, I have written something every year about Good Friday. Today on radio, instead of talking politics, I’ll spend two hours talking about this day — the anniversary of the most important weekend in human history. This Good Friday is personal to me. God gave me a reprieve. Jesus had no reprieve. One thousand nine hundred eighty-four years ago, humanity nailed its Creator to a cross and killed Him. He forgave them and He conquered death.
Jesus went into the grave so that even when I do finally go there myself, it becomes not a tomb, but a doorway to eternity. That is far more important to me now.
My family has spent the last year wondering about the trials we have faced. A decade ago my wife was given six months to live, but it was a misdiagnosis. We thought then that we were through the rough patch. But it has come back. We are tempted sometimes to wonder why and to question the fairness of it all. But our suffering has actually made us more mindful of the suffering of others. In our suffering others have found usefulness. Our suffering has become a very real ministry to others. Today is a day to be reminded that when we wonder “why me” Jesus Christ was nailed to a tree. The sins of the world were piled up on him to such an extent the sky grew dark and the earth quaked.
We may suffer, but He suffered. We may fret, but He fretted. We may feel the melancholy burdens, but he not only felt them, he is willing to carry ours too.
The last year has reminded me that life is not fair, but God really is in the trenches with us. It reminds me of 2 Samuel 7. David intended to build a temple for God. But God says he does not need one. He was perfectly fine living in a tent, wandering a desert with his people. Our tent dwelling God wants a personal relationship with us. And frankly, after this past year, I crave that relationship more than any relationship with a politician, fan, or friend.
My time here is fleeting. So is yours. There’s no reason to hold on to grievances, no reason to avoid forgiveness, and no reason to devote our time to wasted idols. We are not all going to agree all the time on right and wrong. But life is too short not to show each other grace freely and move on.
This past year, I have recognized something important. The people who have turned politics into their god are the most miserable, malcontented people I know. Not everything is political and when you think it is, you have turned politics into religion. Life is not supposed to be political and death coming to visit me showed me how much more to life there is.