Mark Wray checked into the MRI facility because his family doctor wanted to be sure that the symptoms he had been experiencing from an ocular migraine were not due to a tumor in his brain.
But of course the mind begins to work on itself at some point; imagining all sorts of shapes and objects growing inside the skull. And it turns out there really is a lot of room in there if something wants to take over. Like a tumor. Or a blood clot. You name it.
With an ocular migraine, the vision in one eye starts to eclipse, like a black shade pulling down from your eyelid. It can happen any time, and with no reason. Or it can happen because you are under stress, as it once did after Mark Wray had lost a job and was feeling completely freaked out about what comes next. One minute he was driving down the road thinking about being unemployed and the next minute he could not see out of one eye. He pulled the car to the side of the road and waited. And waited. Finally his vision came back but was left to wonder, “What the hell was that?" He put on some sunglasses (even on a cloudy day) and drove home. That is when he vowed to get things checked out.
At the time he wondered if hd had experienced some sort of weird biblical type of event, the bad kind where God blinds you for some breach of faith. Instead it turned out his brain chemistry was just sensitive to things like caffeine or stimulants, or the lack thereof.
But just in case there actually was an ugly tumor growing in his head, the doctor sent him straight off to the MRI clinic so a technician could take images of his brain. Right and left. Up and down. Inside and out. Slice and dice. Digitally, anyway.
Mark was a little claustrophobic so the closed MRI experiment did not work out for him. A technician Brian Indrade moved him over to an open MRI, which was shaped more like a giant plastic sandwich where you lie on a flat table and are supposed to stay still as if you were the meat of the sandwich. Then the mysterious magnets inside the machine make all sorts of chucking and clunking noises as they position themselves in the right spots to take images of the inside of a brain.
The MRI produced heavily contrasted pictures that only a brain surgeon or neurology specialist could love, or truly understand. And the photos of Mark Wray's brain were indeed supposed to be sent straight over to a brain specialist’s office. But instead the technician conducting the MRI on Mark Wray's head conceived a completely different plan once he got a look at the images of the inside of Mark Wray's brain.
The technician named Brian even lied to Mark, saying: "I'll get these over to the neurologist right away."
When Mark left the room, Brian quickly called his closest Christian friend, a woman named JoAnne Fillmore, to let her know that he had (at last) found the strange and wonderful key they'd long been looking for. The inside of Mark Wray's brain showed an image of the Virgin Mary. It was clear as day, Brian told JoAnne.
JoAnne drove down to the clinic to have a look for herself. She squeaked with glee as Brian showed her the Virgin Mary image from the inside of Mark Wray's brain. Joanne then begged Brian for the address of the patient so she could go visit him at his house. "That is totally against HIPPA laws," he protested. She gave him a serious look. "But I know that God's law is more important in this case. Here, taking the images with you. And God Speed."
JoAnne showed up unannounced at Mark Wray's house, carrying both the MRI images along with a Bible and a clipboard on which there were written all sorts of notes about the Virgin Mary including a some passages of scripture from the Gospel of Luke, 1:27 and 1:34. "How will this be," Mary asked the angel, "since I am a virgin?"
It was the purest of miracles, JoAnne believed to have conceived the Christ child without help of a man. Now the Virgin Mary had appeared in the brain of a man with no knowledge of its existence. What sort of sign was this? What could it mean?
When JoAnne showed up at Mark Wray's house she asked simply if she could step inside. “I have something personal and important to tell you,” she insisted.
Having won a few doorstep debates with Jehovah’s Witnesses over the years, Mark had no fear of the young woman’s intent. He figured she would start with a few questions about how well he knew the Bible and would not stop asking questions until Mark starting answering them in a way that agreed with their general intent in showing up at his door. Which was to confess in some way that his life was not complete, and that he needed God to become whole.
But this woman was different. She had no canned presentation for him. In fact the only thing she wanted to know is if he'd ever been given a message from God in any way, particularly about the Virgin Mary. Mark said that he had not.
“Well, she’s inside your head, you know,” JoAnne told him, holding up the MRI images for Mark to see.
Mark knew that some people have particular reverence for Mary as the mother of Jesus. He'd seen people pray to Mary, sing to Mary and kneel at the feet of statues of Mary in hopes they could gain divine blessing from the mother of the Son of God. He'd also heard stories about how people in Mexico and Italy gathered around weeping images of Mary on the walls churches and subway walls.
“What do you mean, she’s inside my head?” he asked the earnest young woman.
“Today one of my friends who works at the MRI lab showed me pictures of your brain. Images of the Mother Mary are clearly visible in several of the pictures. We think it’s a message from God.”
Mark was silent.
She went on. “We’d like you to come to a meeting tonight to discuss your gift, if you are willing,” she asked demurely. “We meet at 8:00. Can you be there?”
Suddenly Mark's cynical side kicked in. “I don’t think so,” he told her. “I’m a little tired from the day and I have to get up early to go to work tomorrow. But thanks for the invitation.”
He then ushered her out the door and closed it behind her. But then a strange and exciting through came into his head. “Holy crap,” he muttered to myself. “I want to see those pictures.”
Mark went to bed promptly at 10:00 p.m. because the day had truly tired him out. But then came a knock on the front door at 10:30. “Oh, Jesus,” he muttered. “I hope they’re not back.”
Walking down the stairs in the dark, Mark heard a noise from the back of the house. He stopped on the stairs to listen. But he could see the shape of a woman standing outside his door, clutching something in its arms. It looked like the girl with the Bible.
Pulling back the curtains, he found himself smiling and giving her a short wave. She smiled and she asked, “Can I come in now? Can you open the door?”
Slowly he turned the handle and prepared to open the door when a series of fast footsteps came rushing up behind him. Two men charged down the hallway and grabbed his arms, pulling Mark straight out the door. They fell together on the front porch, barely avoiding a trip down the stairs.
Mark noticed right away that it was cool outside. He could see his breath, and he hissed. “What the hell’s going on?”
“God wants to talk to you,” one of them whispered in return. “Now be quiet or we’ll gag you.”
“I will not be quiet!” he hollered. Then louder: “I’m being kidnapped!”
But it was too late. They wrapped a towel around Mark's face and dragged him to a waiting van where they piled him in roughly and pulled the doors shut with a bang.
“Mercy of God, we did it!” one of the men cheered. "I've never done anything like this before!"
One of them leaned close to Mark and said, in a quiet voice. “We don’t want to tie you up or hurt you. “We’re just going back to the clinic to perform a couple short tests with that technician Brian to confirm what we saw in your head today. He’s got one more angle to check. Then we’re going to know what we need to know.”
“What do you mean, ‘What we need to know?’ "Mark demanded. “This is my brain we’re messing with.”
“But it’s not, really,” one of his captors attempted to convince. “Everything we have is a gift from God. That includes your brain, does it not?”
Mark's face was still buried in the towel they had over his head. It was getting hard to breath.
"This is rude," Mark insisted. "Just rude and awful."
One of them chuckled condescendinlgy. “This is more important than one mind or one person, fella.”
At the clinic the lights were still dimmed as if the facility were closed. It was obvious they weren’t about to give away their plot to rescan Mark's brain. The two strong men hustled him around the back of the facility where the door stood open wide. The technician stood their smiling. “Welcome back,” he said in a friendly tone. “Let's see if this turns out to be truth or fiction.”
“Who are you people?” Mark hollered. “What do you want from me?”
“Just your cooperation,” the girl clutching the Bible said sweetly. “And a miracle if we can find one.”
The technician gave Mark firm instructions to lie extra still. Then he carefully placed him in a new and awkward position with his face pointing almost straight down at the bed of the MRI. “That’s about it,” he muttered quietly. The others in the room seemed rapt with attention.
“Are you sure?” one of them asked.
“That’s the best I can do,” he assured them. “If it’s going to happen, this is the right position.”
“If what’s going to happen?” Mark shrieked, struggling to right myself now that genuine fear began to grip him.
“Hold still,” one of the strongmen barked. “Lie still and face the Lord.”
“Jesus!” he protested. But the two strong men had him pinned in place, so he decided to wait it out and try to escape when he could.
“Let us remind you, it is not wise to take the Lord’s name in vain,” one of them warned. “This is our chance to talk to God. Don’t you want to find out if God is listening?”
Mark had read the Bible several times in his life. At that moment he recalled a scene from the Old Testament in which a woman drove a tent stake through the skull of a king to end his life. Mark was beginning to fear something like that was about to happen to him. God and his servants can be unpredictable, after all.
The hum of the MRI machine told him the technician had begun his work. Mark held still while the two men pressed their fingers firmly into the flesh of his arms, one with his hand on the back of Mark's neck. It hurt. The sound of the MRI machine clunking around made Mark wonder what they were trying to find. Then it was over. Apparently the technician had signaled the end of his test and the two men let Mark flop free on the bed of the MRI.
“That’s it. All done,” one of them smiled.
“And do I get to see what all this fuss was about?”
They looked at each other.
“No,” one of them said. “At the very least we might get back to you at some point if the miracle tells us what to do. But Mary doesn’t always work that way. Sometimes you’re just the messenger. You might not have any other role.”
“But those are my scans!," Mark protested. And it's My brain! That’s my brain you’re using for your stupid miracle, or whatever you call it! I think I deserve to know something about what you’re doing with pictures of my brain.”
“We told you. Everything in this world is property of the Lord, not you. Unfortunately that includes your brain, and if the Lord sees fit to use you, who are we, or you, to judge?”
“So, what now?" Mark asked, straightening out his clothes and matting down his hair. "You wait for some sign? Some miracle to happen?”
“We think the miracle for right now might be just finding you,” the technician intoned.
“I’ve been working here five years waiting for some sort of sign, either good or bad. It took me years of schooling and a lot of training to learn this job so I could keep vigil. We've always believed there was something in the minds of men that was connected to God. And now here you are. God works in mysterious ways. And today we found the image of the Blessed Mother in your brain scan. How much clearer could it be? She recognized me as the right recipient for her message. Now we must wait to see how she communicates with us next.”
“But…tonight,” I stammered. “What was tonight about? What were you looking for?
“Oh, well, tonight,” the technician muttered. “We were waiting to see if Mary destroyed you somehow. A brain aneurysm. Something like that. We figured you’d be suspicious of all this and might want to report us. So if Mary wanted you dead, we left that up to her. It would have happened. But seeing as she didn’t, there’s really nothing more to say, is there? I'll just file this scan as one I missed, or say that I saw something unusual that I thought was worth checking. There's really nothing more to say. We're counting on you to keep quiet because God chooses his servants well, even if they are sometimes unwilling at first.”
“I'm not so sure about all this...” Mark blurted. “What if I report you to the authorities? The medical community? For abuse of privacy. And my rights! You stole me from my house! Kidnapped me! Hauled me down here in the middle of the night. All to see if I was supposed to be killed? That’s just sick!”
“If you really give it thought," JoAnne tried to correct him. "That's what medicine is about anyway. The doctors just won't tell you. We're all just part of a long line of experiments where they learn how the body works. Sometimes they even think they see a part of the spirit. But not many of them like to admit that..."
“So what's the difference between being hauled down here in an ambulance without your permission or us bringing you buy to check on an image in your brain? Doctors have no more inkling what’s right or wrong with you until they take a look at those images and make a best judgment, do they? Sometimes they’re wrong. Then you die. We’re all here for just a short while anyway. It’s really so much better if you take the view that your life can do someone good if we will ourselves over to God.”
“Look at it this way,” JoAnne added. “It’s kind of like... you made an organ donation tonight. Only a symbolic one. And you might well save the lives––albeit spiritually perhaps––of millions of other people if this message from the Virgin Mary turns out to be significant, or gives us direction in our mission. The world needs mercy. Mary has the power and strength to give it. You turned out to be a possible portal to that message. Mary is here to help if we all turn to her. She is the Blessed Mother, after all.”
“It all sounds nuts to me,” Mark replied. “And I don’t care what you do with pictures of my head. Really, I just came here to find a cure for my ocular migraines. They've been blinding me.”
Everyone in the group turned to look at each other. "How interesting," JoAnne intoned.
“Well, think about that,” the technician Brian Indrade intoned. “All of a sudden, you lose half your vision for no apparent reason.A tiny nerve behind your eye is being pinched by lack of circulation. Suddenly you can't see. Well, we know from the Bible that the Lord has used simpler images than that to turn our hearts from a wrong path. Perhaps you’re really only seeing half the world you’re supposed to see. Maybe God is letting you know, in some way, there's a bigger picture. That's a great gift from Heaven, if you ask me. It's also what brought you to us."
"Whatever," Mark blurted. "Can I go the fuck home now?"
They walked out of the MRI lab together and got into the van for the trip back to Mark's house. As the van drove away everyone inside waved in that strange way that people who were never really supposed to meet wave goodbye.
Then they were gone. Mark went inside and piled into bed because it was now nearly 1:00 a.m. and he had to work early in the morning. Looking out my bedroom window, he noticed that the world only looked half dark in the moonlight.
Over breakfast in the morning Mark sat at the kitchen counter staring blankly at the white kitchen curtains blowly quietly in a morning breeze. The sun was coming through the windows and for a moment, Mark saw the shape of what looked like a woman praying in the shadows of the curtain. He dropped his spoon in his cereal bowl, grabbed his coat and left his house for the day.
That's how it is with mind and vision. One cannot always tell the real from the imagined, or the feared from the desired. And so it goes.