“Do you pray, son?”

Andrew Atkins.

Andrew Atkins

At a medical appointment in November, the chiropractor peered down at me, my head in his hands, and posed a question: “Do you pray, son?”

“No, not really,” I answered, a little bit more than concerned.

“Well, you should. It doesn’t matter what you pray too, but you should pray, ” he said. Crack.

He left the room, and I left the office, taking my sense of bewilderment with me. 

The chiropractor had no way of knowing. He had no way of knowing that just a few days prior, at some point in the early morning hours, my dad died in a field outside of a gas station some 2,000 miles away from where I was sleeping — totally unaware of the person ripped out of my life.

He had no way of knowing my dad had no funeral. And he had no way of knowing how much his colloquial use of “son” wounded me more than he could probably imagine.

And who was he to tell me to pray? Where had it gotten me? To be frank, too many self-proclaimed people of faith use their religion as little more than a thin veneer of benevolence to mask or excuse their own hateful ideologies. Watching people justify personal attacks with faith left me jaded and disinterested in the pursuit of religion.

I didn’t pray then, and I still don’t — but, I recognize my flawed thinking.

See, death has a way of blinding you: the good becomes bad, and the bad becomes ugly. I walked through a world of my own in the days after my dad’s passing. Days went by and I barely ate, got out of bed or cleaned up after myself. I withered like the last leaves of autumn peppering the air outside.

At a staff meeting, I told my coworkers what was going on: “My dad died. I’m doing okay” — I wasn’t — “but I need some space right now.” The rest of the staff, huddled around the conference room table, looked down in stunned, uncomprehending silence before the next person finally spoke up and the meeting moved forward again.

At the end of the meeting, I gathered my things in a hurry, eager to go home. A coworker caught my arm on my way out the door, pulling me aside.

“Hey, Andrew, I’m sorry about what happened,” she said. “I’ll pray for you.” Then she turned and left.

I stood for a moment in disbelief, feeling something come trickling back from a place in my mind I had surely forgotten.

The chiropractor’s words made sense with a sudden blistering clarity: It doesn’t matter what, but we should all believe in something. If nothing else, in the good of each other.

Sometimes, faith is all we have.  

 Andrew Atkins is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected].