I've mentioned my cousin a few times. He was bound to a wheel chair but always with us in spirit. He would watch from the sidelines while we played games in the yard. He would shout encouragement or words of wisdom when needed. He lived through us vicariously. His greatest wish was to join in as we ran to hide or clacked sticks together in mock sword fights. He was the most enthusiastic of us all under the sun or under the roof. I lived next door to him until about fourth grade when we moved to a subdivision off Folly Road. I missed seeing him every day but life moved forward relentlessy.
One Sunday we were sitting on the couch at my grandmother's. We were discussing something about the game we were playing with the TV droning on in the background. It sat in front of us but it was Sunday and only religious shows were on. This particular time it happened to be Oral Roberts, young with slicked back hair and wide nose in front of the camera on a stage. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a line of people at the foot of the stage who were waiting to be touched by this man of God to be healed of their afflictions. I had seen him before because my dad enjoyed his show. There were no cartoons or clowns involved so I had never been interested.
This time was different though. Some of the chatter filtered into my brain. I heard the words, God's promise and be healed over and over. I began to pay a little more attention to the screen and less to the game. Oral Roberts sat on a high stool at center stage with a microphone in front of him.
He looked intently at the person approaching from stage right.
"Hello. What is your name?'
The person would tell him.
"What would you like to ask God to do for you?" He said rolling up his sleeves. A heavy lock of his dark hair fell across his forehead as he listened to the supplicant's story.
"I know God can help you if you believe," said Oral Roberts. "Do you believe? I ask you, do you believe the divine Power of God can heal you?
The person said yes, he believed.
With that admission of belief Oral Roberts took the man's head in his hands cupping his ears.
"Dear Lord we bring this man,(stating his name), before you today. He has an affliction, oh Lord, that he knows only you can take from him. He believes, oh Father, that you will heal him this moment. I ask you in the name of your son to HEAL! him"
With the shout of HEAL! the man staggered back a step but Oral Roberts held him up.
"Did you feel it? Did you feel the power of God flow through me into you? Did you feel His power?"
The man looked up into the eyes of Oral Roberts. His face spread wide with a smile as tears flowed down his face.
"YES!" he said and began to dance in his place. His hands rose slowly palms up and he shouted, "YES! I'm HEALED!"
And Oral Roberts smiled down on him from his high stool. He looked out over the audience saying, "Isn't God wonderful?"
He shook hands with the man and had an assistant lead him away stage left. The man danced a jig along the stage to the stairs.
"And next, Yes, come on up, sweetheart. Next we have a woman who has been on crutches for years due to a hip ailment. Tell us about it, please. Let our audience know about the suffering you have endured."
The woman hobbled up to Oral Roberts in a stilted walk clumping along between wooden crutches.
Coming to a stop, she leaned on them in front of Oral Roberts.
His smile spread across his face.
"Tell us your story. Have you been dependent on these crutches for a long time?"
"Oh yes," she said and went on to tell her story.
"It's a hard life, isn't it, sweetheart?" She nodded. Tears began to brim on her eyelids.
The camera caught them as they slid down her cheeks.
"Come closer, darlin'," said Oral Roberts. "Tell me. Do you believe Jesus can take these crutches from your life?'
"Yes I do," she shot back.
"You know that if you have faith and believe that Jesus will heal you here and now under this tent?"
She nodded tears flowing.
"All right then." He placed his hands on either side of her head and began to pray into the microphone.
"Dear Jesus, Lord and Savior, we ask you to have mercy on this woman who has suffered enough in this life. We ask you to touch her here and now, to bring your healing power to her. To relieve her pain. Let her walk without the aid of these crutches. We ask you TO HEAL!" The last two words were accompanied by the heal of his right hand clamping on her forehead.
She staggerd back. His hand seemed to pulsate on her face. It took a little longer for him to remove his hand. Slowly he released her.
"Did you feel it? Did you feel the hand of God deliver you from your bondage?"
She stood with her eyes closed. An age seemed to pass as her lids parted to a flood of tears. Her smile spread from ear to ear. The tears spilled down her cheeks.
"You felt it didn't you? You know you're healed don't you? Now comes your real test of faith. Have you ever walked without the support of crutches since your ailment began?"
"No," she answered.
"Well, now you can. Give them to me."
"Come on now. You felt it. You know you don't need them anymore. Let me have them." He became insistant. I had become entranced by this miracle.
Reluctantly, she handed over the crutches. He held her hand while giving the crutches to a stage hand. Stepping down from the stool, he continued to hold her hand.
"I know you're nervous now, but you can do it. You can walk without them. Come on. Try it."
He walked backwards, with her hand in his, leading her forward. She took a nervous step. Then another. Her grin crept wider. He let go her hand. She stood on her own. He nodded. Looking at him she took a faltering step forward, then another. Oral Roberts was backing up a little faster. She followed a little faster. Her steps came quicker, confidence building. She passed him and began to dance a little. He laughed and walked back to his stool looking back at her little jig.
"Isn't God great?" he said to the audience. He looked at the woman as she danced back in his direction. She took his hand and thanked him.
"Praise God!" she shouted. The audience broke out into loud applause.
The screen changed at that moment. Oral Roberts faced the screen. He was alone now with the TV audience.
"Now it's your turn," he said. earnestly, looking straight at me. "Distance makes no difference to God. If you have something you need to bring before him, we can do it now. Where two or more are gathered... And in this modren age of the miracle of television we can meet, the three of us--you , me and God--to bring a miracle into your life. A healing miracle can be yours this minute. Just pray with me. If you need healing or someone you know needs healing then all you have to do is place your hand on that person and pray with me. The healing power of God can come to you just as it did to this woman who no longer needs her crutches. That's it. Place your hands on the person. Believe with all your heart and have faith. A miracle will bless your life with faith that God is here with us through the miracle of TV."
I was caught up. My hand went to my cousin. I laid it on him and closed my eyes. I had seen Oral Roberts heal people right before these eye through the miracle of television. He talked on, asking God to visit us in our homes. To bring his power to the one in need. To heal that person and make them whole.
Yes, I thought. Like you did with Oral Roberts, Lord, here through his words and my hand on my cousin, give him a healthy body so he can run and play with us. So he can be a kid like the rest of us. Please.
Oral Roberts prayer ended. My hand stayed where it was. It was all over in a matter of seconds. My cousin looked at me like I was crazy. He had been engrossed in the game. The Oral Roberts program hadn't been on for him. I looked at him smiling. Any minute now, I thought.
"Arn't you gonna play anymore?" he asked me.
"The game! Are you quitting?"
I looked at him. There was no change. Oral Roberts had said a healing would take place. He said God promised to heal the believer. My cousin deserved to be able to run with us and play with us like normal kids. It wasn't to be. My first huge request of God went unanswered. I was overwhelmed with disappointment. I looked at the board. I rolled the dice. I played on. It was the same game and yet...
It wasn't too many years after this that my cousin passed on. It was my first encounter with death. I was always upset that he couldn't join in with our games in the real sense. But he was never resentful of the fact. He was happy just to be with us and enjoy what he had with complete acceptance.
I was about eight when he died. Life went on. I put away childish things and the memories slipped into the back of my mind.
Years later, when I had moved back to Charleston, I took a job at St Francis hospital. The building was on Rutledge Avenue back then. It was a huge pharmacy on the ninth floor. We had the best view of the Ashley and Cooper Rivers joining to form the Atlantic Ocean of all the buildings around. At times of stress we could stand at the window for a few minutes to feel the calm of the scene settle on us. It was refreshing.
Different sections of the pharmacy were allocated to different duties. The IV area was in the back section. The majority of the workers were in the front. One often worked in solitude in the back. It was less sressful there than in the midst of the political goings-on in the front.
A few years before the move to the new building West of the Ashley I happened to be working in the IV area all alone. It was a little before lunch that I was finishing up the IV check of the individual bags of fluid to be delivered to the floors. I had everything lined up on the long blacktop table when the strangest thing happened to me.
Out of the blue my cousin was with me. I hadn't thought of him since I was a young boy. Don't get me wrong, I didn't see him standing in front of me nor did I hear him speak. He was just there. I knew it. Without words or pictures he gave me a wonderful message. Instantaneously, I was with him under a beautiful blue sky in a meadow of lush grass. I don't know how but he said to me--Remember how I could never run and play with all of you when we were young? Well, it's different here, Rickey. I am able to do all those things I could only dream of when we were together as kids. It's beautiful here. When you come we'll do all those things and more. We'll race down the hillside and see who wins. It's beautiful. It's wonderful. You'll love it.
And then he was gone. I was standing beside the black top table with an IV bag in my hand. It was the singular most beautiful vision, if you want to call it that, I have ever experienced in my life. One second I was checking meds in the same dull routine and the next I was standing in the same room with a heart so full of joy I could barely hold it in. My cousin, whom I had not thought of in over 40 years, had come to me to let me know what wonders were waiting in the next life. To me it was a miracle. Of course everyone I've told looks at me like I've just crossed over into looney land. It's too bad they think that. When things get really bad, I revisit that moment. It was a gift. I think I was supposed to pass it on. Here it is. Believe what you will. I know what I believe.