: Our Thoughts and Prayers :

an excerpt by Thomas J. Cottle

Little grates on me as much as the clichés hurled again and again on television. Families in mourning have to hear about this closure business, whatever it means. Or those ubiquitous questions, When you heard that your parents had died, what was going through your mind? When the flood destroyed your community, what was that like?

Another one that has always rankled me is the predictable statement following the announcement of a death: “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the families.” One would think that intelligent people could come up with something more thoughtful, sensitive, caring. But then the words were addressed to me.

I felt obliged to tell a patient of mine that I would have to call him regarding our next appointment as I was about to undergo surgery and didn't know how long a recuperation period I was facing. Seemingly without thinking, he looked at me and said softly, “I'll pray for you, Doc.” His words had no sooner filled the air than I felt the tears. Apparently, the prayers of this man were exactly what I wanted. A devout Catholic tells me, a Jew, he will pray for me, and at once I am filled with some peculiar spirit of security, or is it a release from something? A release, perhaps, from a lifetime void of the spiritual? Normally I will think, pray what you wish, my friend, but just don't mention the name of your Lord. But this time that thought never emerged, and it was not because he was my patient; I had no desire to censure a single word, a single holy name. I felt filled up, somehow, with the mere statement that he would pray for me. And I have no idea what praying actually means, much less whether there really is something called a power that emanates from this activity.