Monday, April 28, 2014


Splash 1Splash.  Drowsy, I turned over. What was that strange sound?  Beeps, the swish of lab coats, the whispers of nurses, that all made sense.  

Splash.  I opened one eyelid and saw the man walk by with a red plastic bucket. He placed it beside his wife's bed. He picked up the thermos that the nurses filled every morning with boiled water. Carefully he mixed the hot and cold to bring the water in the bucket to a bearable temperature.  Peeling back the covers, he slipped off her pajama bottoms.  Murmuring to her, he dipped the rag in the warm water and started to wash.

There were three beds in the 3rd world style ward.  Each patient required round the clock care; nurses do "medical" things like start IVs; family and friends do everything else. On the far end, recovering from an emergency appendectomy, I was tended by a round robin of sisters, friends, students and family members.  In the second bed was a little girl about my daughter's age.  She'd giggled into the night with her big sister who was watching her and clearly enjoyed a visit from a gaggle of her classmates.  In the far bed was the childless couple, a very sick wife and her husband.

With all the tender care of a mother, he washed her.  Still too ill to do anything to help him, she lay still but for an occasional violent cough.  Drying and covering the bottom of her, he washed her face and helped her comb her hair.

For her privacy he did these tasks in the half-light of dawn.  Back-bowed he took the dirty clothes to the bathroom. Soon the red bucket was turned to another task, as he washed and scrubbed the clothes by hand.  Wringing them out over the drain he hung them on the balcony and came back to stand by her.  The first day I was there the only words I ever heard her say was his name.

She is loved, a tangible practical love.  Love in motion.  There was nothing remotely romantic about the picture of two middle-aged people struggling along without the support structure of nurses, family members and technology that would have made that hospital stay more comfortable.  There was nothing sexual in the way he took care of her most intimate needs.  It was just love.  You could see it in his weathered face, hear it in his gravelly voice, observe it in his humble actions.  He adored his wife.

I can't get them off my mind.  Not that I've anything to envy.  My sweet husband was back and forth from home to the hospital loving on me and the kids both.  I have an abundance of people who provided all the care I needed and more.  I was well in a day or two; she may be well in a week or two more.

No, I can't get them off my mind because I think I'm starting to see the import of some words I've known a long time.

Love is patient.
Love is kind.
Love is not arrogant.
Love does not boast.
Love is not irritable or resentful.
Love endures all things.
 As I watched the couple, I thought that I could see years of love, 30 years of give and take and ups and downs, a lifetime of reciprocity.  That's an astonishing thing, itself.

However I wasn't struck by their love that day but by his. His love was primary, self-less, unassuming, giving, seeking, and quiet.  When she had nothing to give back, he gave everything; she was a most helpless recipient of her husband's love.  She didn't even have breath to return a "thank you."  He just poured love out on her like water for a bath.  She was literally awash in love.

Love is not that we loved God, that we sought God, that we found God but love is that God loved us and sent his son to give his life for us (1 John 4:7). God does everything and we receive gratefully, helplessly, joyously.  Sometimes we can't even catch our breath to say thank you.  Like the disciple's filthy feet, we too are awash in love.

The next time the world tries to sell you on roses, romantic getaways, and pleasures of youth, take a minute and remember the splash as a man washed his wife's feet.  The next time the world tries to sell you on the easy way out, on looking out for number one, and the pleasures of society, take a minute and remember the splash as a rabbi knelt by the basin.  Forget the world's vision. Know the love of God, accept your own helplessness, and be washed. 


Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE(R), Copyright(c) 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission

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