Twice this fall Stross has needed to have an ingrown toenail surgically corrected. First his large right toe, then his large left one. As part of the healing process, his foot needed to be soaked twice a day in a warm iodine solution and the wound gently scrubbed. The process ended with rinsing, drying, and bandaging.
None of the steps involved could be performed by Stross independently. In fact, after the first procedure, the doctor had me treat both feet even though he had only removed the toe nail on one. The doctor said that soaking alone might be enough to heal the second toe. Unfortunately, it was not enough to spare Stross the second procedure only a few months later, so once again I got an empty ice cream bucket out for a second round of soakings. And again, for four weeks, I washed Stross’ foot.
Each morning and each night I got the iodine solution prepared, helped Stross get into position, and watched the clock until it was time to rinse, dry, and bandage his wound with antibiotic cream.
Stross loved it.
And the holy intimacy of the act never escaped me, even though holiness sometimes did.
Ancient civilizations practiced foot washings for practical reasons. The hospitality shown immediately bridged any discomfort visitors might have had prior to arriving while assisting them in maintaining their health.
Many Christian denominations latched onto this cultural practice, evoking the examples of humility and servitude tied to foot washings that were described in scripture.
Muslims engage in foot washing as part of a ritual cleansing necessary for entering a state of prayer called Wudhu, where purity of body lends itself to purity of mind.
For Stross and me, foot cleansing was tied to healing – his physical healing, my emotional one.
Now his feet are healed, but I am not. I am closer, though. Each year that he grows older, I get closer.
I will forever have a son who needs my assistance in intense portions. Not only can he, at nearly 20 years of age, not wash his own feet, he cannot do many things that most adults can.
Enumerating them here is pointless. And, yes, we are all dependent upon one another for help to get through life. I understand how that makes him no different than anyone else.
Yet his state of dependence is entirely different.
Those who are quick to say “but what a blessing” have likely not been the beneficiary of such a blessed gift. If so, they would know that the blessing must be self-infused. It is an intentional acceptance of life as it is, while denying a wish for life as you once assumed it would be.
When the process of acceptance works, you get the type of involuntary joy I talked about in the book of the same title. When it doesn’t, you simply wait and try again. Perhaps the next time your 20-year-old son’s foot needs to be soaked, rinsed, dried and bandaged.
Stross’ baby feet symbolized hope for his future – a future that would be full despite the fact his feet or ankles could not (and still cannot) move.
Stross’ man feet symbolize hope for my future – a future that will be full despite the fact his life shapes my every move.
His foot is healed; I am not. But I am closer. Much, much closer.