America Is Not Ready To Heal, Reflections from Courtney Napier

CGC Contributor Courtney Napier offers a personal story about a scary message from a doctor, and the path of healing that followed. Healing comes only when the cancer is gone, she writes. You can’t keep the pathogens in, and get good health out.


The waiting room of a pediatric cardiologist’s office is a curious place when you’re twenty-five. Bursting with color, there were smiling, cartoonish renderings of giraffes, lions, and monkeys painted on the yellow walls. Disney shows played on the TV mounted in the corner of the room. Large wooden mazes and puzzles entertained children sitting in little turquoise chairs. Their parents passed the time on their cell phones in height-appropriate cushioned chairs. I felt like a giant, and I was a touch embarrassed. But all those feelings were meaningless when I sat in the exam room awaiting the results of my echocardiogram.

Dr. Milazzo came into the room and sat across my new husband and me. We were a month away from celebrating our second anniversary. He told us that the murmur that my gynecologist found two years earlier was caused by an atrial septal defect, and it was quite serious. The pressure of the blood regurgitating back into the chambers it was supposed to move through in a particular direction would cause my heart to enlarge and, ultimately, fail. The only treatment was open-heart surgery. And it needed to be done as soon as possible.

On April 1st, 2013 — the day before my husband’s birthday — we walked into Duke Hospital, and our lives changed forever.

Right now, president-elect Joe Biden is calling on America to heal. His supporters believe unity across party lines and ideological divisions will heal America’s heart, which has been deeply fractured over the last four years. I find this desire demonstrates a lack of understanding of the healing process. The ableism embedded in American culture (substantiated by Protestant charismatic religion and Westernized New-Age philosophy) makes one’s healing seem a hand’s touch or a mental shift away. If one has faith for a miracle or can tap into the power of attraction, they can be well. But this ignores a crucial step — treatment.

One of the names of God that I find best serves this concept is The Great Physician. This is how the Black Church refers to God the Healer, and it is a preferred descriptor because Western culture has no proper reference for the work of a Healer. We do, however, understand what doctors do. Doctors diagnose and treat our ailments. They show us where we are dis-eased, then they give us a protocol to make it right. Once the condition is treated, then one enters into recovery or healing. The recovering patient rebuilds strength and learns how to function in this life after receiving treatment.

The treatment for my heart defect was open-heart surgery, and I was terrified. I was afraid I would die, and, if I survived, I was fearful of the painful recovery that would follow. A family member who is battling cancer was told that he needed a bone marrow transplant to be truly cured while he was in remission. That meant that he would have to repeat chemotherapy and radiation and once again be separated from his spouse and young daughter to lessen the threat of getting an infection as this global pandemic. The idea of repeating the pain of treatment terrified him, but he wanted to heal completely, so he did it.

America is not ready to heal because it is refusing the treatment protocol. Activists who took to the streets this summer — those described by Greg Jarrell as representing the margins of society, where healing is found — declared with boldness the treatment that America must undergo to begin its healing process: remove the Trump administration, defund the police, Medicare for all, cancel student loan debt, government job program, and economic reparations, were just a part of the treatment plan. America has barely made it past the first step, and the second has been met with anger and willful ignorance.

America is not ready to heal.

Healing, unity, reconciliation — those things come once the cancer is gone. They come once the hole in our heart is repaired. It comes once we swallow the bitter medicine that is the truth of the error of our ways. God, our physician, points us to the very same treatment protocol – ” He hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound…”. If the treatment proclaimed from the marginalized is a bone of contention in the power structure — and if Democrats, in particular, choose to treat this movement like a curse and not a blessing — healing will continue to elude our reach.

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