A TWISTED LOVE

I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon had followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless, to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.

Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed,  and together they seem to dwell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily?

The young woman speaks.

“Will my mouth always be like this?” she asks.

“Yes,” I say, “it will. It is because the nerve was cut.”

She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles.

“I like it,” he says, “It is kind of cute.”

All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a god. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth and I am so close I can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate to hers, to show her that their kiss still works. I remember that the gods appeared in ancient Greece as mortals, and hold my breath and let the wonder in.

Source: Richard Selzer, M.D.
Mortal Lessons: Notes on the Art of Surgery
(Harcourt Brace, 1996) pages 45-46
Originally published by Simon & Schuster, 1976

CONSIDER THIS

Was the young man a god? I think not. But he possessed a God-like love, a love that persisted in the midst of change, a love that did not alter when it found alteration.

Do you have eyes that can see beauty, joy, goodness, and hope? Can you sense such gifts even in the midst of seeming ugliness or when the light is dim and the darkness heavy?

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FROM A CHILD’S POINT OF VIEW

 

On a busy Saturday morning, Dad and his five-year-old son Martin made a bargain: If Martin behaved himself while Dad ran some errands at the home improvement store, Dad would take Martin to a movie.

Deal!

But the deal quickly fell apart. Martin began to pout and whine as soon as he and Dad walked into the store, making it impossible for Dad to get anything done.

“I don’t think you’re holding up your end of the bargain, buddy,” Dad said. “We had a deal. Remember?”

The little boy nodded tearfully.

Dad noticed that Martin’s shoelaces had come undone and knelt down to tie them. Martin sniffled and grasped the sleeve of his father’s sweatshirt, holding on. While Dad was still on his knees, he noticed the chaos around them: Shoppers nudged and pushed one another in an effort to get through the aisles; an hysterical mother called out for a lost child; a display of boxed items tumbled to the floor because a distracted customer wheeled a cart into it. And poor Martin kept getting hit in the shoulders and head with purses and bags as people brushed passed him.

From that vantage point, Dad realized how overwhelming and terrifying all of this chaos was to a five-year-old. He felt badly for not having been more sympathetic to his son’s plight and realized that Martin had been a champ in trying to brave his way through it all.

Shoes tied, Dad lifted up Martin and placed him on his shoulders. “Hey, buddy, what do you say we get out of here and do this shopping some other time?”

“Are you sure, Daddy?” Martin asked, trying to gauge why the plan was changing.

“Yup. Positive. Let’s go to that movie.”

Source: Adapted from
Seeds of Greatness by Denis Waitley

CONSIDER THIS

The Dominican theologian and mystic Meister Eckhart preached that “Whatever God does, the first outburst is always compassion.”

Compassion is the ability and the willingness to enter the chaos, the pain, and the story of another.  It is all about putting oneself in the place of someone like Martin: to see the world from their perspective, to see what scares them, to understand their fears, to embrace their pain.

GOOD SAMARITAN

One semester, a seminary professor set up his preaching class in an unusual way. He scheduled his students to preach on the Parable of the Good Samaritan and on the day of the class, he choreographed his experiment so that each student would go, one at a time, from one classroom to another where he or she would preach a sermon. The professor gave some students ten minutes to go from one room to the other; to others he allowed less time, forcing them to rush in order to meet the schedule. Each student, one at a time, had to walk down a certain corridor and pass by a bum, who was deliberately planted there, obviously in need of some sort of aid.

The results were surprising, and offered a powerful lesson to them. The percentage of those good men and women who stopped to help was extremely low, especially for those who were under the pressure of a shorter time period. The tighter the schedule, the fewer were those who stopped to help the indigent man. When the professor revealed his experiment, you can imagine the impact on that class of future spiritual leaders. Rushing to preach a sermon on the Good Samaritan they had walked past the beggar at the heart of the parable.

Source:  Tim Hansel, Holy Sweat
Alice Gray (compiler), Stories for the Heart
(Multnomah Books,1996) page 93-94

CONSIDER THIS

We must have eyes to see as well as hands to help, or we may never help at all. I think this well known anonymous poem expresses it powerfully:

I was hungry and you formed a humanities club
to discuss my hunger.
Thank you.

I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly
to your chapel to pray for my release.
Nice.

I was naked and in your mind you debated the
morality of my appearance.
What good did that do?

I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for
your health.
But I needed you.

I was homeless and you preached to me of the
shelter of the love of God.
I wish you’d taken me home.

I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
Why didn’t you stay?

You seem so holy, so close to God; but I’m still
very hungry, lonely, cold, and still in pain.

 

WE DO CANCER

Richard was a widower; his wife had suffered a long and painful death from cancer.  Then he met Celia; they came to love each other and each other’s children dearly.

Less than a year into their courtship, Celia discovered a lump in her breast.  She had gone to the doctor alone and was alone when she received the devastating news: the lump was malignant.

Once the reality set it in, her first thought was for Richard and his children.  They had been profoundly wounded by cancer only a few years before.  They were still healing from it.  How could she bring this terrible thing into their lives again?

She called Richard immediately and, without telling him why, simply broke off their relationship.  For several weeks she refused his phone calls and returned his letters.  But Richard would not give up and begged her to see him.

Finally, Celia relented and arranged to meet him to say goodbye.  When they met, she could see the deep strain and hurt on his face.  Richard gently asked Celia why she had broken up with him.  Finally, on the verge of tears, she told Richard the truth: that she had found a lump in her breast, that it was malignant, that she had undergone surgery a few weeks before and would begin chemotherapy the following week.

“You and the children have lived through this once already,” she told him, “I won’t put you through it again.”

He looked at her, his jaw dropping.  “You have cancer?” he asked.  Dumbly, she nodded, the tears beginning to run down her cheeks.

“Oh, Celia,” he said – and began to laugh with relief.  “We can do cancer …  we know how to do cancer.  I thought that you didn’t love me.”

Oh, but she did.  And they got through it together, happily married.

Source: Rachel Naomi Remen
My Grandfather’s Blessings
(Riverhead Books, 2001) pages 203-204]

CONSIDER THIS

The Gospel of compassion and reconciliation is “fulfilled” every time we act selflessly. Whether we can “do cancer,” whether we know how to comfort and listen and console, whether we can make a soup kitchen or a tutoring program work … whatever gifts and graces we possess can work great and wondrous things when done in the Spirit of the God who came to set us free.

SHE WEPT WITH HER SON

It was graduation time many years ago.   Preschool children had made a ceramic gift for their parents.  The graduation was over and the children had gone with their teachers to bring the gift of their ceramic hand to their parents.  The children all ran into the room together holding those hands as a surprise.   They were brightly wrapped with tissue paper and ribbons.   The classes had been working on them for weeks.

One small boy trying to run and carry his hand, wave to his parents, and at the same time he slipped and fell.   The surprise flew from his grasp and landed on the tile floor with an obvious ceramic crash.

The child’s first reaction was one of stunned silence but then he cried in disappointment at the broken hand.  His father who was wanting to minimize the incident and comfort the boy, patted his head and said, “Now that’s alright. It really doesn’t matter, son.  It really doesn’t matter at all.”  The child’s mother, somewhat wiser in such situations, dropped to her knees on the floor, swept the boy into her arms and said, “Oh but it does matter!  It matters a great deal!”   And she wept with her son.

Source: Based on a story told by  William Muehl in Why Preach? Why Listen
(Fortress Press, 1986) page 92

CONSIDER THIS

People need more than a pat on the head and a few words of reassurance. They need our blessing and our felt presence! When in pain or confused, people long for that someone who falls to the earth beside us, picks up our torn, broken and bleeding spirits, and says, “Oh, but it does matter. It matters eternally.”

THE FARMER, THE HOUND AND THE BANKER

A distressed farmer was about to lose his farm, so he went to the bank to get a loan, and his old hound dog came along too.  Now the banker was a hard, unsmiling man who have never heard the word compassion.  So it came as no surprise that, despite the farmer’s pleading, and despite his perfect financial record, the banker said ‘No, absolutely no!’ to the loan.

No sooner had those words been spoken than the farmer’s old hound jumped up and bit that banker hard, on the leg.  And then he bit one of the customers as well.  The banker was astonished. “I can understand,” he said, “why your dog might bite me after I turned down your loan. But why did he bite that innocent bystander over there?”

“Aw that’s easy,” said the farmer. “He just needed to get the nasty taste out of his mouth.”

Source | Dennis R. Clark, Sunday Morning, Reflections on the Word

CONSIDER THIS

Imagine yourself in the position of the distressed farmer … Imagine yourself in the place of the insensitive banker … What do you feel? How would you have responded? Daily we encounter other people. Why not try on a daily basis, to give  to the other the gift of transforming graciousness!

THEY ARE HUNGRY TOO

One night a man came to our house and told me, “There is a family with eight children. They have not eaten for days,”

I took some food and I went. When I came to that family, I saw the faces of those little children disfigured by hunger. There was no sorrow or sadness in their faces, just the deep pain of hunger. I gave the rice to the mother. She divided the rice in two, and went out, carrying half the rice. When she came back, I asked her, “Where did you go?” She gave me this simple answer, “To my neighbours; they are hungry also.”

I was not surprised that she gave – poor people are really very generous. I was surprised that she knew they were hungry. As a rule, when we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.

Source | Mother TeresaMother Teresa: No Greater Love
(New World Library, 1989) pages 39-40

CONSIDER THIS

When we are suffering, we are so focused on ourselves, we have no time for others.