The world can be scary.
Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.
Someone who is healthy, fit and strong can take care of herself. She is self-sufficient, working a job to earn money for food, clothing, shelter – and fun, too. She can get herself to and from work and wherever else she might like to go, she can feed herself, dress herself, and keep her body maintained, as well as her housing. She does not need to depend on anyone particular, as she is a fully functioning part of society.
But, someone who is not healthy, fit or strong cannot take care of herself. She is completely and directly dependent upon others for food, clothing, shelter – for survival. She has no money with which to buy the things that she needs and, even if she did, she cannot physically put the food in her mouth, put the clothes on her body, or even move from one point to another. If she were to be alone without another human being for more than two days, she would die. I know because this is a description of me.
And it’s scary.
The only reason that I am not scared every day is that the little world of my family is a loving and gentle place. My loved ones are not wolves. They do not prey upon me in my vulnerability, but, rather, pray for me. They are not heartless and careless, but, rather, thoughtful and attentive. They are not selfish and stingy, but, rather, kind and generous. My parents are living examples of sacrificial love – willing to give up their own time, energy, resources, and even physical comfort for my sake, so that I may survive and even thrive. I am grateful every moment of every day for them, without end.
But…. They are getting older.
After 30 years of taking care of my physical needs all by themselves, we began getting assistance from home health aides a few hours a day, 2 to 5 days a week. Right now, it’s four days a week for a total of 11 hours – assuming no one calls out. I won’t say that it’s easy having strangers come and give me personal care. It’s a lot like, “Hi, I’m Christina. Would you like to see my bum?” But, although the women who come start off as complete unknowns, after getting to know each other we usually like each other and get along very well. In fact, although I have had many aides for only one day, those that last longer have been good people, genuine caregivers, no wolves among them. Although, sometimes one might be a little rough or another a little sloppy, they generally give adequate care and sometimes even more than adequate.
The problem is that they are not my loved ones. I cannot completely depend upon them because they have their own lives. If my parents suddenly can’t take care of me because of their own health issues, none of them will jump into the 24/7 care. Right now, my mother is unable to take care of me because of her severely injured back. It’s all upon my dad… who woke up from back pain himself this morning. And with one of my home health aides unavailable for much of the summer, the other one has had to fill in – even though she herself has back problems and I know that I am breaking her, too.
And that’s when I think about the world in which I live, my own helplessness, and how scary it all is.
I don’t want to go into a nursing home. What fully cognitive person of 40 would? Yet I know that this is my ultimate fallback. And, truly, I am grateful to live in a society where someone like me will always be taken care of physically, one way or another. We are not such a cruel and heartless people that we will allow the most vulnerable citizens of our country to perish because of disability. Well, so far we aren’t. So far, so good. I know that I might very well end up in a nursing home one day, and I know that it will scare me. Yes, physically, I would be in fatal trouble if I were without another human being for more than a day (dehydration is very serious for such a small, fragile body as mine) but, mentally, I would not make it more than an hour without another human being within earshot. I have a terrible, paralyzing phobia of not being able to be heard. Even a few minutes without someone responding to me makes me realize how utterly and completely helpless I am and I just freak out. The wolfish fears of my mind have the power to devour me.
You know how believers always profess to love and trust in God? I do that. I profess to love God and to want to give my whole self to God, and to let Divine Will, not my will, be done. But do I really mean it? My test is this: if something horrible happened to my parents and sister and I had to live in a nursing home with nurses and aides who begrudgingly looked after my survival needs but who were not kind, who were mean – if this was my life, would I still love God? Would I still thank God every day that I am alive? Would I still be the accepting, joyful and loving person that I am? Sometimes, I let the full terror of this scenario fall upon me, the dark misery of it, and my deep, deep answer is: Yes. That’s what commitment is. That’s what faith is. I will love and serve God no matter what, no matter how painful, no matter how horrifyingly difficult it may be to live up to my beliefs. I will not betray my love!
But I pray that I will not be put to the test!
The truth is that everyone everywhere is vulnerable. We, as human beings, are all dependent in some way. First of all, of course, we are dependent upon God for existence itself. Then, we are dependent upon the created order, upon the earth and the resources of earth, for our survival. And let’s not forget our absolute dependency in the womb, as well as our dependency upon adults in our infancy and early childhood. Our dependency continues – even if we are physically healthy, fit and strong, for it is rare to find a hermit who does not receive something from someone or a self-sufficient survivalist who has not hoarded up a collection derived from others’ work. And we know that the world can be a rough place. Getting employment and housing can be difficult, living in a safe neighborhood is never a guarantee. There are thieves and liars and murderers everywhere that humans live. And even the kindest, gentlest people can be victims of horrendous crimes. We are often sheep among wolves.
So, what are we to do? We are to remain gentle. We are to be loving and kind, selfless and generous. But, we don’t want to be mindless. To be thoughtful is to think of others as they are – beloved children of God who do not always live up to the divine image in which they are created. Sometimes, people turn away from their humanity and become ravenous in their self-centeredness, using up others and tossing them away. We must be mindful of that. But we must not harden our hearts against them. We must never seek to give them a taste of their own medicine – for then we would become vicious ourselves. No, rather, we must be smart and use reason to work around people’s tendencies toward evil acts. If I end up in a nursing home, I will know to use my sweetness, my patience and understanding in a very obvious and outward way, so as to disarm people in their brisk harshness and unthinking. I will use my wits to discover their vulnerabilities – and I will have true sympathy. I will do my best to become a friend to them – and then they will be more willing to be a friend to me. And if this doesn’t work? I will never turn mean myself. I will try my best not to be vicious toward them. Rather, I will accept the fullness of my vulnerability. I will be as harmless as a dove. And perhaps, someday, in some way, this will be for someone a sign of the Holy Spirit.
© 2014 Christina Chase