Human indignities

Human indignities April 27, 2011

I’m at Sister Tater’s house this week. She had shoulder surgery this morning. It was a little rough at first — the block the doctor said would ensure her rest for 18 hours didn’t take. She came out of the surgery in some kind of hurt. But she’s home now, resting, and doing much better. She’ll be back to pitching form in no time at all.

It was quiet around this house most of the day. Nobody here but me and the chickens. Okay. Well she doesn’t actually have any chickens, but she does have three dogs. They took me for a walk around the neighborhood, and Riley kept strangers at a safe distance by barking loudly at their heels as they biked past us. I tried to tell Riley I was fine. No need to put up all that fuss, but Riley had taken on the role of bodyguard, and wasn’t about to pipe down as long as strangers lurked nearby.

Speaking of lurking, I don’t know if you are aware or not but several of our friends here have been going through some hard times. Our friend Gary’s wife has had surgery. She’s recouping but there may be some forthcoming chemo, radiation. If you could keep Gary and Kim in your prayers.

Our friend Eleanor and her husband Henry have had quite a go at it lately. Like so many in our nation, they are dealing with unemployment and the random health issue.

Steve reports that he survived the harrowing weather in North Carolina, by driving between two tornadoes. When I inquired about his well-being, Steve didn’t write to me of himself. He told me a story about how we can restore dignity to others. Here’s a excerpt that I pulled from Steve’s story:

So there we are … finally … on Sunday night.  A beautiful spring night here.  No obligations, no phone calls.  Two nice steaks, a back yard with the splashing water of our koi pond, a grill, a gentle breeze and one another.  Ahhhh, finally, a little piece of peace.  A small slice of sabbath.I was reading one of your posts to Sheryl, the one about “empathy” and just as I read my reply to my bride …  “Of course, Paul said it another way, “Bear one another’s burdens. ” But, oh goodness, it’s just so much more inconvenient that way. And More Jesus,” the phone rings.

No Lord don’t let it be … but it was.  Jean was wailing on the phone.  Wailing.  Apparently that morning Mitchell had been able to ambulate to the chair with Jean’s help.  But he was fading away so quickly, that by the afternoon, he could no longer walk.  And Mitchell sat in his nice recliner, the one where he had watched so many Carolina games, the one in which he had snoozed and ate snacks and watched movies … he sat in his chair and he pee’d all over himself.

Truck-driving, tough-minded, Mitchell.  And Jean wailed.

Sheryl was gentle and direct with Jean and did what good social workers do.  She talked to Jean on one phone and contacted the call nurse on the other. The nurse, however, was with another patient and wouldn’t be able to go quite yet … maybe another hour or two.  Jean continued to wail, devastated, distraught, lost.

And that is when Sheryl looked over at me.  We stood frozen, the smell of steaks wafting through the cool evening air.  Exhausted.  Just this one night.  And the call nurse would respond.  But there it was … “empathy … so much more inconvenient … And more Jesus.”  I reached down and turned off the burners to the grill as Sheryl went and got the keys.

Twenty minutes later, there we were, standing in the truck-drivers trailer with the smell of urine heavy in the air.  And we patted and loved on Jean as she almost violently rubbed Mitchell’s skin-and-bones thighs, crying loudly, and through the sobs, “I love you Mitchell!”  After awhile, I asked her if we could pray. And so I did, thanking God for the love of these two children created from the essence of God.  Thanking God for their shared love.  Thanking God that he had brought them together for this life.

And I knew, without a doubt, that at this moment, they were the ones after God’s very own heart.  As you do it unto the “least.”  Powerless.  Hurt.  With nothing left but a piss-covered chair, tears, and half-choked proclamations of a most crippled love.  As I lifted him in my arms like a baby, covered in his urine, and overwhelmed by his wasted condition, I knew, that it was Jesus whom I lifted.  It was Jesus who I carried to the double-bed shared over a life-time, and it was Jesus that I laid as gently as possible into that place where he would lay for the last time.

Mitchell died last evening.

I don’t think that God is much amazed.  In the scheme of things, it was really no big deal.  It was surely not orphans in Africa, or ex-combatant children in Liberia, or street kids in Peru.  It was not refugees in the Balkans or homeless folks under bridges in Fayetteville, or even ex-cons in Lumberton.  All the things that a United Methodist missionary might be called on to do.   It was just church folk helping church folk.

And yet, it may have been the holiest thing that I’ve ever done.


I thought of Steve’s story and of the trials so many in our community are facing as I sat in this quiet home on the Washington coast, praying for my sister and reading some thought-provoking literature. And all that got me to thinking about all the ways in which human dignity can be stripped from us — by tornadoes or floods, by ill-health or advancing age, or by the horrors we inflict one upon the other.

And that leads me to ask you: What is the great human indignity that you have personally suffered or borne witness to?

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  • First, Karen, thank you for including Henry and me in the list of those on your heart. As I cast my eyes around, though, I can’t find anyone else with whom I would trade lives. Even those who have everything have SOMETHING, you know?

    Any indignities we have suffered as a result of this season of unemployment pale in comparison to those difficulties others face on a daily basis, but sitting in the admissions office of the hospital having to practically scream out all my personal financial information on the phone to our COBRA provider before they would allow my husband to be admitted had to be a real equalizing moment. It is hard to look across the desk at a clerk and tell them their current information is dated: there is no employer. It is hard to accept the generous acts of friends and not feel like there is now an imbalance in that relationship. It is hard to allow yourself to be beholden to another.

    But thank God for the “anothers.”

    • John in PDX

      Hope the winds change on the unemployment side. I would bet money that you have done things in your life that you would not want some to beholden to you for.
      I know that I would not have had such a full life without the help of other people.

  • I don’t have an answer to your final question. I just wanted to express appreciation for this.
    My wife is a physical therapist who does home health visits, and I have heard some stories of folks setting aside their lives in order to care for a spouse, parent, child, or family member. These stories are heartbreaking, but they’re uplifting. You really find out what you got yourself into when you vowed “for better or worse, in sickness and in health”.

    I kind of wonder if every young googly-eyed young man or woman who is thinking they’re ready to be married, shouldn’t have to spend an hour or three in a home where the situation is similar to what my wife sees daily, or what you describe above. Once you look at your boyfriend/girlfriend, and are ready to say “yes, I’ll take care of you when you are no longer attractive, when your hair falls out from chemo, when you go to the bathroom all over yourself. When you vomit on your clothes and on the carpet, and you can no longer do anything for me, but our life will consist of me doing things for you.” When you can say all that, then you’re ready for marriage.

  • Perhaps without intending to, James W points out the folly of many self-written wedding vows these days because they tend to leave out the “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health” prospects.

    But in repsonse to your question, not my own experience but bits of another’s. She was a triage nurse in Vietnam. She once talked about doing two things: 1) the feeling of complete powerlessness at being able to do nothing more for many young men but hold their hands; 2) going out to the little burial ground on the edge of the compound where the hospital staff would hold informal “funerals” for the severed limbs interred there–and being too numb to do other than lip synch the words to the Lord’s Prayer because she could no longer make herself say them out loud. She was 21.

    All my experience in life stops light years short of that.

    • I did not intend to, because I didn’t realize that the trend in self-written vows was to leave out that stuff. But good point.

  • I don’t have an answer either, or at least not one I want to share, but I do have a heart and mind and the ability to pray for all those you list this day.


  • Gloria

    Very powerful post. I too can and will pray. Tell Sister Tater we are thinking of her. I

  • Debbie

    Watching (and nursing) my step-dad after he suffered a massive stroke that left him without speech and movement down one side of his body…it was very hard to see such an active self sufficent man wheelchair bound and unable to even toilet himself…the day he passed away was bitterweet.

  • John in PDX

    Thanks. Thanks caring. Whenever I read or hear something like this – it makes me feel good. Too much of what I read and hear doesn’t make me feel good.
    I hope, pray and believe that there are many good deeds done everyday.
    I’ll go out and work harder today to accomplish the Boy Scout Slogan.

    “Do a good turn daily.”

    Thanks again.


    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      John: I agree — I think there is plenty of good being done everyday and we just don’t hear enough about it.