The Viewing Room
University of Georgia Press
Jacquelin Gorman
“Blood Rules”

“Blood Rules” is from Jacquelin Gorman’s debut collection, The Viewing Room (University of Georgia Press).   The collection was Co-winner of  the 2012 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction and a National Book Award Nominee.


Gorman said this about her story: “Blood Rules” is the centerpiece story in the collection, the dramatic turning point of one hospital chaplain’s journey of faith.  Maurice, a Christian minister, had lost his ordination, his license to lead a church, due to his unholy desire for bloody revenge for his mother’s murder. His soul is shattered by the rejection of his own congregation.


Our personal theologies break when we encounter one of two dilemmas, the suffering of the innocent and the problem of evil. If both occur simultaneously, it becomes a global crisis of faith. On 9/11, the churches, temples and mosques were overflowing with people trying to make sense out of this catastrophic event.  I honored the 10th anniversary of 9/11 by participating in a ceremony at a mosque in Los Angeles and was overwhelmed by the warmth and welcoming sweetness of Muslim members. In this story, Maurice, watches the Al Ghusl, the Muslim ritual of washing the body of one’s beloved, and he is similarly transformed.


Differing cultures and religions have developed concrete definitions of when the moment of death occurs — the last breath, or the last heartbeat, or the last brain wave. In this story, the line between life and death is not so clear-cut, as the Muslims believe the spirit stays with the body for some time after physical death. A fifteen -year old girl, whose best friend has died of heatstroke, tenderly bathes and encloses her body in white binding sheets, as if she was a gift to the next world, wrapped in layers of love.


The inspiration for this healing image began with the story of Father Mychal Judge, a chaplain to the New York Fire Department, who died while administering last rites to bodies in the twin towers.  Although the beloved priest was not the first person killed in the bombings, he was the first officially identified corpse of the September 11, 2001 attacks, (Victim 0001). The men in his NYFD unit carried “Father Mike” out of the building, back to the Firehouse, where they created a makeshift shrine around him transforming this secular space into a sacred one.


Similarly, in “Blood Rules”, spiritual devotion transforms the clinical coldness of the hospital viewing room into an intimate, holy place. I wanted to show faith as movement — not as a noun, but a verb, as a way of doing and being and seeing, a fluid, mysterious and ultimately transcendent force.

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