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An MRI with Hannah Arendt (or Atheists in God’s Image).

So I’ve been having some odd neuro-symptoms that I needed to get checked out recently. After delaying for a while, I finally saw a neurologist who ordered an MRI for me. At the MRI office, I was asked if I was claustrophobic. Without hesitation, I answered “nope.” My wife drove a confident me to my MRI appointment this morning, and a confident me went into the MRI room. A confident me sat down on the MRI bed – and a slightly less confident me was slowly pushed into the MRI machine. Within 30 seconds, an insanely maniacal freaked-out me realized that there was no way in Hell that I could make it through the procedure. I seriously panicked and I was out before the machine even turned on. Shameful, but I guess I am far more claustrophobic than I thought. Of course, when you are asked such a thing – it is difficult to think back to analogous circumstances wherein I spend a long amount of time in a small tube with loud magnets swirling around my head. So I left the office discouraged (especially since I’ve taken too much time off of work and put my wife through a lot as I’ve been trying to figure this out). Fortunately, the doc told me about open MRI’s (the sort where the machine is not a tube but leaves space for peripheral vision). And fortunately, there was a place a few doors down that offered just such services. So determined to use my day off well, I went a few doors down, gave them my doctors orders, shuddered at the look of the “open” machine and (later) scheduled an appointment for 2:00.

Then began the real planning. I called my wife to meet me at the metro with some tranquilizer pills that I happened to have that I have never used. Despite the “openness” of this machine, I knew I’d need to be in an altered state to make it. Then, since my wife had to watch our three children, I called a dear atheist Jewish friend to come hold my hand while I went through the procedure. I knew he wouldn’t pray for me, but I’ve been his confidant through a lot of trials, and I knew he’d be happy to help me through mine. And so it was. I met my wife. I took a “happy pill” and met up with my friend David near the office.

We went in. I was slightly relaxed from the meds. The doctor turned on a rock station (playing Boston I believe). David sat next to me, spoke encouraging words, gave me fist-bumps, and read me excerpts of Hannah Ardent’s Jewish writings. I believe he was reading from the introduction concerning the difference between Ardent’s zionism and that of Theodore Hertzl. The doctor allowed to tilt my head just enough so that I could see his face out of the corner of my eye. And, just to top it off, I prayed, recited Scripture, had libidinous thoughts (pure ones, mind you), drew numbers in my head, and frequently panicked. But I did it. 25 minutes. Done. Drugs felt even better afterwards.

I’m not sure what the moral of the story is. But all I can say that is that on this particular day, I appreciate the face, voice, and friendship of a young Jewish atheist. Medical crap can be rather lonely. And despite our ideological differences, there is a more fundamental sameness between David and I than difference. We are both God’s image. We are both persons. We are friends. And as much as we try to adjudicate our ideological differences, the underpinning of basic humanity is common. It is delightful. And it is precisely what God created us to need and enjoy. I needed God’s provision in the form of a person today, or I’m quite sure I wouldn’t have made it. It feels stupid to say so, but it’s probably true. And today, God’s face looked like a Jewish atheist who read Hannah Arendt out loud.


  1. Kimberly says:

    Libidinous thoughts. LOL. You are something else, Joe.

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