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
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?