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Freethought Today · April 2016

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

Strong Backbone Award by Dustin Hickok: Even after cheating death, I’m OK without God

By Dustin Hickok

When I was 16, they read me my last rites.

My mom's Catholic, so the priest said some magic words to save my soul. I think he sprinkled water or oil, but I was unconscious. I don't remember. That's what I was told.
Anyway, on Oct. 26, 2013, while skateboarding, I foolishly hitched onto a friend's car going 45 mph. I was not wearing a helmet. I fell. I was 16.

I fractured all the bones on one side of my face, damaged my sciatic nerve, brain fluid leaked from my ear and I severely damaged the front portions of my brain. Emergency surgery removed half my skull. I was in a coma and on life support.

Doubtful doctors said "if" I woke up, I may never again be able to communicate, that I was most likely blind in one eye, and that walking, feeding myself or living independently was forever gone. But they noted that I had all my teeth. That was good. Months later, one of my many therapists told me I would never graduate, much less graduate with my 2015 class. After all, I'd missed an entire year of school. My brain was messed up. It wouldn't happen. I had to give it up.

They were wrong.

I've worked countless hours, sweated and cried and bled and literally crawled to get where I am today. I learned to eat again, speak again, walk again, spell, count, breathe, shower, dress, use the bathroom, cope, sing, not have seizures, and on and on. I learned to live. I'm not blind. They put my skull back together. And this year, I took a double load of high school classes. I have a 3.6 GPA. As I write this [in May of 2015] I am six days away from graduating with my original 2015 class! I got my driver's license. I have a girlfriend. I went to prom. I have been accepted to college. I have a wicked scar, but it's kind of cool.

People call me a miracle. They tell me I should thank God.

I don't ask, "Would that be the same God who let me fall?"

See, they wouldn't understand. They would dislike me and judge me, and even though they'd just called me an inspiration because I lived when so many others might have died, in their eyes I'd have instantly turned into something evil. Sad. If I didn't accept their faith, everything I'd done was dust.

They ask, "How can you walk again if not for God?" Well, if God made me walk, then my NOT walking was also because of God. If everything is part of His Great Plan, does that mean God made me fall?

And though I think of myself as a good person, why would God save me, the infidel? True, I'm moral without the threat of hell. I don't eat babies, sacrifice small animals, or copulate with kidnapped toddlers like so many people think I do if I dare tell them I don't believe, but still, I don't buy into it. Does it mean that my heathen soul is headed for fiery hell? Should I tell people this? God saved a nonbeliever?

But you know what? I don't. I stay silent. For the most part, I'm a closet atheist, because I know most people mean well, and if they say I've been blessed, I smile and say "thank you." If they intrude into my government, that's different, but a remark on my recovery? I let it go.

I have a tattoo: "If you believe in yourself, anything is possible." Most see the word "believe" and that makes them happy. I see the word "yourself." I know who's responsible. I'm OK without God. But I do wish others would be OK with me when I say that I'm OK without him. It's hard to be brave enough to speak up. But you know what? I've faced death and won. Their disapproval doesn't even leave a scar.

• • •

Dustin, 18, grew up in Littleton, Colo., and went to the Denver School of the Arts, graduating in May 2015. He now attends the University of Northern Colorado. He plans to major in physiology and minor in music, with plans to work in the field of music therapy. Dustin enjoys playing the guitar and singing, and also is interested in health and the outdoors. The Strong Backbone Award of $1,000 from FFRF is endowed by an octogenarian member.