Today I sat in a physical therapy room at a nursing home and watched as an elderly member of one of my congregations went through the tedious task of learning to walk again after suffering broken hip in a nasty fall a few months ago.
I cheered her on, right along side the physical therapy team. When she expressed concern about not being able to complete a task as well as she thought she should, I joined her therapists in reminding her how far she has come.
I felt my heart swell as I looked at the beautiful smile on her face and the way she joked with the staff. In the first weeks after her fall, she had been weighted down with a severe depression, convinced she would never walk again and would simply waste away and die.
It had broken my heart back then to hear a woman who usually so cheerful speak with so much hopelessness. In the time since then I’ve watched her make tremendous progress, watched her moods go up and down until they spent more time up then down, and listened to her increasing determination to get back to her church.
Her last exercise of the day was to climb a small set of steps, turn around, and walk back down them. She was expected to do this twice.
I watched as she struggled to do something I do everyday without thinking. Three steps. That’s all it was. And it was clear it took all her energy to accomplish the feat.
But she did it. One step at a time. First her strong leg, then her weak. Strong leg. Then, weak leg. Strong leg. Weak leg. She stood at the top, and carefully, holding onto the railing with both hands, took tiny steps to turn herself around.
After getting her bearings, she tackled the trip back down. First her weak leg, then her strong. Weak leg. Strong leg. Weak leg. Strong leg. At the bottom, she turned her self around in the same slow, shuffling way she had at the top.
Bravely, courageously, and with sheer determination written on her face, she made the trek up and back down again.
I had to leave after that. It was her therapists idea to have her walk me out–after all she had just done in the therapy room, the walk down the hall was a cinch by comparison.
I gave her a kiss on the cheek and a hug, much the way I used to kiss my own grandmother goodbye. When I got to my car I couldn’t help but think about all the things I take for granted.
The last time I come, this sweet, elderly woman had told me how much she had wanted to cook a meal. She had wanted to tinker around in a kitchen so badly that she couldn’t see straight. The time before that she had told me how she missed her house. And here she was, working herself to the point of exhaustion in order to accomplish a task that I do everyday without a second thought.
I thought about all the things I take for granted. My ability to walk my dog in the evenings. My ability to run upstairs when I think of something I want. My ability to bounce up from a chair without pain or effort.
It reminded me of a book a colleague had once told me about, Minding The Temple of the Soul: Balancing Body, Mind and Spirit Through Traditional Jewish Prayer, Movement, and Meditation.
Although I have yet to read the book, I was intrigued by its subject. The notion that every aspect of our body could become a chance for prayer appeals to me deeply. To turn the simple act of eating into a prayer in which every step of it engages all of our senses to connect with the Divine would certainly change the way we engage with the mundane tasks of everyday life.
As I thought about the woman I had spent the afternoon with, I resolved to cherish my body a little more than I currently do.
When I came home tonight after all my visitations, meetings, and Bible studies were completed, I didn’t waste time putting the leash on the dog and taking a stroll through town with thankfulness for my healthy body on my mind.
Thank you, God, for the gift I thank you for so seldom: For a body, intricately woven together by the power of your love and grace. Amen.
We all too often want to think of “big things”. The human body and mundane tasks are not “small things”. The body is a magnificent work. Many would be grateful to be able to perform the tasks that able bodied persons take for granted—-until the ability is taken away, be it by illness, accident or aging. Thank you for sharing your joy at a few small steps that will have “many happy returns”.