During breakfast one morning at my rehab center, an elderly very hunched-over woman walked into the dining room. It was obvious she was well-loved, judging by her newer clothing and powder pink walker, which no doubt was purchased by her relatives or friends. She wore snazzy Keen sneakers, a floral blouse, and trendy fuchsia sweater. A sweet smile lit up her gentle face and sparkling blue eyes. Neatly pinned at the nape of her neck, in a small bun, was her light gray hair
She wandered over to a man and heavy-set woman at a nearby table, extending her hand to the woman, who laid her head on it. Like a mother cradling her child, they shared a tender moment, finding comfort in each other.
The man then spoke up and said, “There was a cripple like you in my parish.”
She smiled, somehow not offended.
The man continued, inquiring, “What is it? Osteoporosis?”
“No,” she corrected, “Scoliosis.”
I couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation, but it was obvious the self-righteous pastor saw himself above the flock of ailing and disabled. He was one with God. A shepherd in a sea of lost souls who could never reach the pinnacle of his piety.
A few minutes later, after my disgust quieted, I looked up and saw the stooped woman ask the pastor to bless her. He muttered something about how he couldn’t do that because he didn’t have “such and such” or maybe it wasn’t the right venue for providing compassion. He may have said a prayer for her, but as soon as she left, he commented to the larger woman how he finds it difficult to forgive sinners.
I wanted to scream. But mostly, I wanted to talk to the woman with the pink walker to soak up a little of her tenderness. I wanted a teaspoon of her goodness and love. Instead, I could only glare at the “pseudo” man-of-god and ponder what inspirations he’s offered his congregates if his teachings come from an ancient book, which has been rewritten numerous times to support unique narratives, often clouding its true meaning.
As someone who’s spent most of her career in high-technology, where 5-year old innovations are considered passé, I can’t imagine proudly espousing the same gibberish over-and-over again, like millions of men-of-cloth for 3,000 years, especially if they don’t apply a modern context and understanding of human nature.
Maybe the pastor once lorded over a flock of devotees, but presently, he was just another old man in over-sized tennis shoes with calf-high socks, frumpy shorts, collared-tee-shirt, and cardigan. He wasn’t godly and good. He was an insensitive critic.
On Wednesday, a truly saintly woman visited me, a chaplain who grew up in Southern California and was born in Whittier, where I’d lived as a child. She was a beautiful woman with a flourish of silver curls that framed her face. Some of her curls were so silvery, they seemed to reflect light like a finely polished teapot. Her gentle face was equally lovely with a touch of scarlet lipstick and swoosh of rouge.
I was initially confused by her being a “woman” religious leader in a Catholic institution like Providence Mount St. Vincent; however, she explained chaplains are multi-denominational and are attached to an institution like the armed services, hospitals, prisons, schools, labor unions, fire departments, and even senior centers.
We spoke for an hour, me lamenting what’d occurred from the horror of our injuries to the challenges of negotiating around the house with both Rich and I one-footed. She attentively listened and offered bits of insights, commenting on the need for justice along with the power of love to heal. Our chat was surprisingly cathartic, and I felt better afterwards.
When I first arrived at Providence Mount St. Vincent on Tuesday afternoon, I was taken on a short tour of the facility and invited to visit the chapel on the 3rd floor. The next morning, after eating breakfast, I wheeled my way to the chapel, which is surprisingly large and ornate.
I sat in the corner, crying, and then heard soothing music. While I’m not a religious person, I found solace in the peaceful environment, and a newfound appreciation for the healing power of faith, compassion, and acceptance.