Sunday, March 10, 2013

Not by Bread Alone

March 10, 2013

Dear friends,

Like all the experiences from my rehab adventure, today’s story is one in which the beginning and ending of the story lie beyond my knowledge. Again, I trust you to use your own life journey to make a context for understanding this fragment from another traveler’s life.

As I have explained, my adventure extended over the days immediately before Christmas, and included the day of the official Christmas party for the unit in which I was a resident.

Since I was a temporary resident and scheduled to go home before Christmas, I was strongly inclined to watch the party preparations without participation. The staff respected the clear “Sorry. I won’t be coming,” of my emotional RSVP. However, without my conscious consent, the stories being played out around me pulled me into the human struggle to be and do more than merely exist.

On the day of the party the routine unit activities had been largely suspended so that staff could assist residents to get ready for the party. Showers, hair “appointments,” and party preparation preoccupied the staff and residents alike.

Returning from therapy, I stopped to wait for the  traffic temporarily blocking entrance to the hall to my room. While waiting, I noticed that a man in his wheelchair and the staff person with him had squeezed their chairs into the awkward corner near the dining room, and were intently involved in some activity. They were not talking; they were focused on their task in the quiet oasis they had made in the midst of the noisy activity around them.

The man I recognized as an individual who usually sat in the far corner of the dining room, and who was often a source of loud complaints and disturbance at meals. Now he was sitting quietly, his face unusually peaceful, intently watching the staff member who was sitting facing him, and who was, I finally realized, giving him a careful, unhurried manicure.

As I watched (covertly, I confess), I understood the party at a deepened level of significance. For this troubled man, party preparation permitted someone to touch his hands, gently, without coercion, without reference to disturbing behavior or emotional and physical pain. In that moment, this man was not a problem—he was a person, a man going to a party. This was a man whose hands were being touched with the implicit promise that having been touched (a manicure!) he might at the party risk touching someone else in turn.

As I wheeled myself down the hall, I felt ridiculously near tears. The human need for touch—to touch and to be touched—is as essential as air to breathe. Without it—borrowing the stiff formal phrase of professional assessment—without touch we, all of us, fail to thrive.

Remembering with you today that in the early church, by apostolic command, greeting included touch. Paul instructed the Christians at Rome to greet one another with “a holy kiss” (Rom. 16:16).

Wondering with you how in this crazy culture Paul’s directions should be understood and obeyed.

Holy manicure, anyone?

See you next week.


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