all of the selves we Have ever been
Man is born broken.
He lives by mending.
The grace of God is glue. Eugene O’Neill
I pull into a parking lot where others wait in their cars for the office doors to open. Soon people begin hobbling into the waiting room. My son and I follow them inside. Their wardrobe accessories include slings, braces, and walkers. Winter coat sleeves hang loosely from shoulders. Slippers cover bound feet. Here, no explanations are needed for limitations that are so evident. Here, human brokenness is not just acceptable, it is the reason this place exists. The unique wardrobe accessories are badges of courage for a kind of brokenness legitimized by doctors and their prescription pads. People eye each other and joke about their state of dress, their appliances, and their injuries. I sit among this community of the broken as it gathers for mending. Some might call this church.
Instead of St. Peter at the gate, there is a woman named Brenda at the front desk. Her affect is bright and she greets each patient by name and with enthusiasm. While Brenda is not a physical therapist, there can be no doubt that she is part of the therapy. Brenda recognizes and greets each patient and regular caregiver. She knows each patient’s name, schedule, health insurance, and balance due. She remembers the weather the last time one patient was seen, and she jokes with another patient about wearing shorts on a cold December morning. On the rare occasion when Brenda is not at her desk, the entire experience seems off. I experience the feelings of unreality known to the lost: Where am I?
The high priests here are the physical therapists. They are generally young, fit, and sure of themselves. They are friendly and kind and greet each patient with that brand of humor that comes with familiarity. Patients seem to feel the need to urgently confess their sins the minute the therapists call their names: “I didn’t do all my exercises this week,” or “I re-injured myself chasing after a toddler.” There is no shame here, no reason to hide the truth. The therapists offer quick reassurance.
In a couple of months, we will all say good bye to Brenda and these high priests as we each go our own way with bodies healed. All-in-all, it is a pleasant experience. I ponder the example as I wait for my son to finish his therapy. Rarely, in our daily lives can we be so open about our brokenness. And rarely, is there such a clear remedy or so much hope. There is no sling for a sagging self-esteem, no brace for a broken heart, no boot to correct the steps of a wayward child, and no assurance that the suffering will be temporary.
We piece together our lives with threads that are not always sturdy. There seems to be no end to the threats that can break us. And yet so much of what hurts is hidden. What if we could be as honest about our brokenness and as open in our mending as these folks inside the physical therapy office? What if there was someone who could see to the place inside us where it hurts? Determine how much weight we can bear? Legitimize our suffering? Write a prescription for the cure?
We find ourselves preparing for Christmas in a time when the whole world seems broken. We await the birth of a savior. The example in the story of Jesus is that of a man who was born and then broken. He mended and rose again. Along the way, he healed the sick, found the lost, and welcomed the outcasts. He did this largely by seeing them.
May we celebrate this holiday season by seeing each other and by offering to others some of the glue and the grace that holds us together.
And in the New Year may we follow this advice from Rabbi Lawrence Kushner:
When you see something that is broken, fix it. When you find something that is lost, return it.
When you see something that needs to be done, do it. In that way you will take care of your world
and repair creation…realize the awesome power God has put into [your] hands.”
Happy holidays my friends. Good tidings of comfort and joy!