First, a quick update: we have a launch date for Love’s Subversive Stance! My new book will launch on Tuesday, December 6th to those on the pre-sale list (and Thursday, December 8th for the general public). If you’re on the advance notification/pre-sale list, you’ll have the opportunity to get the book for $10. (The book’s regular price will be $20.)
I’ve spent a good deal of time caring for my seventy-five year old friend William* this month. He’s home at L’Arche, recovering from major surgery. As such, he needs more assistance than usual. For example, he showered independently before the surgery, and now, he needs people to help him.
This is difficult for a man who puts a premium on independence and privacy. Staying home and recuperating for 6 weeks is also a challenge for a man who loves putting on a suit jacket and going to work every day. And, while it’s vital for L’Arche assistants to empower him and allow him to feel good about himself and his contribution, it’s also important to know when to step in and help out.
I won’t say it’s been easy. But there have been little moments of beauty amidst the brokenness.
When I was assisting William this week (specifically, as I was drying between his toes after his shower) he took the time to thank me. As I bent over his feet — noticing his big toenails, the peeling skin from his chronic foot fungus — he said, “I really appreciate you doing this for me. I love you.”
I didn’t expect his words, but, looking back, I understand why he spoke at that moment. There’s something special about tending to another person’s feet. There’s something significant about kneeling in front of another person and caring for this foundational part of them. Some part of that act that strikes a chord with us. It reminds us that a simple touch can make a world of difference.
The Ordinary & The Sacred
Caring for William’s feet reminded me of Gene, because caring for Gene taught me that tending the body can tend the soul. He taught me that the sacred is present everywhere.
I remember a strange feeling of deja-vu coming over me during a worship service wherein I was asked to wash Gene’s feet. Cleaning Gene’s feet was a part of my routine at L’Arche; assistants would wipe his toes and apply creams and powders each day.
During that foot-washing ceremony, as I touched the feet I knew so well, I felt the sacred and the ordinary collide. And I realized that there is no separation; that the ordinary things we do out of love for one another are sacred.
Portrait of Gene, from memorial card
In remembering that long-ago foot-washing, I also remember my L’Arche friend Mary, and how she responded to Gene’s death. Though medical examiners came for Gene’s body soon after his passing, Mary made sure that he wasn’t alone when they came.
Though his spirit was gone, she stayed with his body. She put lotion on his wrinkled skin. She washed his feet, as she’d done so many times before. She tended to the friend she loved one last time.
Our culture teaches us to shy away from acts like this. Caring for a person’s body just after their death is seen as morbid, rather than loving. When Mary told me what she’d done, though, it seemed to me to be the best thing anyone could have done.
The Unbreakable Habit
Mary’s act reminds me of a passage in Marisa de los Santos’ novel, Love Walked In. As the narrator arrives at the home of a woman who has died, she realizes that the woman’s housekeeper has continued bringing in fresh flowers to an empty house.
The narrator says, “…somehow…this seemed no less magical than flowers that stayed alive for years, that one woman could so love another woman that she kept doing nice things for her even after she was gone. Like love was a habit you couldn’t break.”
That’s what I want to live into: love as an unbreakable habit. Love as something that’s so much a part of me that I carry on caring even when there’s no hope for acknowledgement or reciprocation. Love that looks at death and sees a pause, rather than an end.
I want to live into the kind of love that Gene inspired in people, because that love is bigger than anything.
Every time I think of what Mary did for Gene, I hope– God, how I hope– that someone will be willing to do the same for me.
Have you experienced love as an unbreakable habit? Tell me in the comments!
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