Betty Duffy

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

For the Doubting Thomas

This post originally ran a couple years ago. I'm remembering past Springs--and this one came to mind with the readings last Sunday.

My husband, in an attempt to burn down some high weeds in the yard, accidently set fire to his legs and hands. Midnight Saturday night, after much indecision about the emergent nature of his condition, found him on an ambulance to the Wishard burn unit in Indianapolis, where specialists removed several layers of damaged skin, and sent him home, a bit buzzed on pain killers, with a week's worth of new dressings that I will change for him.

Burns, I'm learning, are tricky, as if they are not treated, the skin will continue to burn for several days, inflicting more and deeper damage to the lower layers of skin. The greatest risk for a burn victim is infection, so the wounds have to be, not just patted clean, but scrubbed, to remove yesterday's salve and bits of dead skin. New ointment is then applied, then gauze and bandages.

Scrubbing a loved one's open wounds is not something one does casually. Reading about the apostle Thomas touching the wounds of Christ after Easter, I made a note to myself, this is significant in some way I don't yet know. It was this morning, my bare hands weeding through my husband's open tissue, I realized the fear and humility that must have instantly replaced the apostle's pride and doubt when he touched the wounds of Christ. It was indeed the body of the Lord, as Thomas's hands penetrated each layer of skin; a body, inside and out, died and risen.

My husband worked as an orderly in a nursing home when he was in college. Mostly, he lifted the heavy bodies of people who could not lift themselves, then changed their sheets, their clothes, their diapers, and cleaned their bodies. When we got married, and he told me about his experiences, it was a hopeful sort of joke to say, "Someday I might have to do that for you." If we're lucky; if we live long enough; if one of us is still strong when the other is weak.

I can think of only two times in the ten years we've been married that we've had to care for one another in some intense bodily fashion. Right after we were married, I was sick with a kind of flu that required him to clean carpets, walls, the bathroom, and bag up the clothes I'd been wearing to put in the garbage. My status as a coy young bride was instantly replaced with a vulnerability and carnality that I would have found appalling if I'd been able to predict that my marriage would take me there. As it turned out, it was good preparation for what we would later experience in the delivery room. But my husband has never been ill or injured in any way that has demanded more of me than bringing him tylenol and a glass of water.

The first time I stayed up all night with a sick baby, I had the awareness that this is what it means to be one in flesh with the beloved: I'm tired, but sleep is not my right nor my desire, rather, I want to take on myself whatever is ailing you. Whatever's clouding your head or hurting your ears, I want to feel that in your place.

In marriage, the desire to ease one another's physical pain comes naturally, but the opportunities to do so are so much more rare than the emotional opportunities. Caring for my husband's physical wounds calls to mind all the times I've scoffed when he's had his nose bent out of joint about something.

My husband doesn't wear his heart on his sleeve. He will never be the kind of person to say, "This is where and how I've been hurt." But somehow, I always know when he is, and I'm stubborn enough to want him to say it out loud: "Put your hand here."

He shouldn't need to say it, though. To be one in flesh, my desire is to take on myself whatever is ailing you, even wounds I don't have to see to believe.


Erin said...

I actually teared up while reading this. I've considered many times how much my husband and I have done for and with each other in our short 7 years of marriage. I can't imagine doing it with or for any other man, and I definitely never imagined going through some of the things we have. This is how I know for certain that he is my best friend... ever.

"The friend is the man who knows all about you, and still likes you." - Elbert Hubbard, The Notebook, 1927

Kimberlie said...

Beautiful. I remember reading it the first time. Just as profound the second time. Thank you.

nancyo said...

This post is extraordinary. I sent it to my husband and he was as moved by it as I was. Thank you for your writing.