December 3, 2012
When I started dating my boyfriend, there were a few things I worried about.
|Justin and Jordyn, at the rehabilitation hospital, about a month after Justin's injury.
He is a non-stop, always moving, always adventuring, constantly exploring type of person. I have a borderline unhealthy relationship with my laz-y boy chair and rigorous DVR schedule. He would be happy with bacon for breakfast, a cheeseburger for lunch, and a steak for dinner. I've been a vegetarian ever since I put two and two together and realized that the chicken that went "bawk-bawk" was the same chicken that was on my dinner plate. He is borderline OCD when it comes to putting dishes away. I've been known to grow science experiments in my kitchen sink.
But of all those things I worried about, one thing that never crossed my mind was: what do I do if I need to pray for him — and I don't know how?
Dating someone who isn't Jewish wasn't a deal breaker for me. There were times early in our relationship where I thought that it might have been easier if he was Jewish, but those moments were more about the jokes I made that he didn't laugh at. He was always open to learning and supporting, which was actually refreshing. And I'll probably keep telling and retelling the story of the time he discovered that my kitchen was kosher, and not just, as he put it, "anal-retentive."
In June our relationship was pushed to a new level when he was severely injured during a camping trip we had taken to Pennsylvania. A fun day hiking to a swimming hole ended with a life flight, a 7-hour surgery, and a lot of uncertainty. I was suddenly faced with the question I never thought I'd ask: how do I pray for someone whose prayer is different than mine?
After almost a week in the ICU (him being treated and me sitting in an almost torture-like folding chair for hours on end), I left the hospital to attend Shabbat services. There's a time during Reform services where the congregation joins together to pray for those in the community who are sick or in need of healing: the Mi Shebeirach. And while it's customary for those in attendance to share the name of the sick, I found myself whispering his name in my head. I was ready to pray for him through my traditions, but I wasn't ready for the entire congregation to do so.
When services were completed, we joined together for some wine and challah. I was quickly zeroed out as a newcomer, and my story was soon out. Reactions from the room differed, but the message was the same: "I will keep you in my mind." For those people in a small congregation in rural Pennsylvania, the trappings of the situation didn't matter.
The idea that prayer boils down to feelings became very clear to me. Prayer became less about the words that were spoken — whether they be in Hebrew, or addressed to Jesus, or a secular notion of hope. Prayer wasn't about the details, it was about the sentiment. It was about strangers adding his name to the Mi Shebeirach. It was about members of his family praying in church. It was about a desire to keep him in mind. It turns out, we would all pray. And it didn't matter how we did it.