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Thursday, April 9, 2009

44: Holy Thursday, Batman!

It's holy week. No wait, in the Catholic world I think that may be Holy Week, with some capitalization there. Not quite sure, but that's how I remember it being written everywhere. Regardless, today IS Holy Thursday, a day reserved in the Catholic calendar year as the day things move from "man this stinks" to "BOY this is really going to suck." The day when the tone goes from "Jesus kinda knows that some stuff is going to happen" to "Jesus REALLY REALLY REALLY would prefer to skip the rest of this week" in the stories of Holy Week times.

Catholics usually mark holy Thursday with a foot washing service, which is designed to emulate the foot washing done by Jesus to the feet of his disciples.

This was explained to me sometime in grade school as being particularly significant because, even though we think it might be kind of gross to wash someone else's feet now, it was really really gross back then because you know what people drove to get from place to place? Feet.

And they had sandals to cover those feet, which meant that feet were covered in filth and disgustingness, and probably enough callouses to serve as the other parts of shoes that sandals were not providing. So to get up in those toes and wash them for not one, but twelve people's feet, TWELVE PEOPLE when, oh, you're also about to die for their salvation as well as everyone else's on earth and all who would ever be on earth - yeah, that was kind of a big deal, at least as it was explained to me.

Somehow the feet washing services always seemed particularly strange to me. The whole idea is great - that Jesus humbled himself in such a way, making a point that hey jackasses, you're not better than anyone else and you're supposed to be helping people, (paraphrasing the intention there) - but somehow any time I saw people doing this act in public in modern times during childhood, it weirded me out more than anything. Maybe it was because it was a visual shift of the expectation of people I saw at church all the time. Here was Mrs. So-and-so in the same corduroy jumper outfit with turtleneck she always wore, but now Mr. Smithandsuch was stooped over her feet with a bowl. And then the guidance counselor would be in the seat next to her - Mr. Gives-a-guide with his wool pants rolled up to the knee.

Maybe it was all those pasty white calves exposed when they didn't seem like they should have been? Or maybe because foot washing seemed like such a bizarre thing anyway? Like, no one I know in real life has a giant tureen of water in their homes reserved for foot washing. It wasn't like they were having someone feed them french fries or do their taxes, it was something that it seemed was never done. Perhaps if I had had more familiarity with pedicure foot tubs it would not have seemed weird. But I swear, no one I knew got pedicures until I was in like, eighth grade. The mani-pedi combo was far from ubiquitous, and certainly not an indulgence that teenagers would enjoy, even when it did become something that people did. People's moms got manicures, not people's friends.

Well today, on Holy Thursday of all days, I did not have water and rolled up pants, but I did have someone tend to my feet with care and precision. I had an appointment with the podiatrist for (gross alert!) a possible regrowth of a plantar wart. Every time I go to this doctors' office I feel like I am about 14, and not because I feel like a kid again, but because I am so significantly younger and more physically able than the rest of the clientele that I actually start to feel awkward about being young and able to walk at a pretty good clip. Not only do these older folks that the receptionist knows by name have walkers, they have aggressive and chronic foot troubles that make walking painful and difficult! Even watching their approaches from a chair, I feel frustrated and impatient, and then guilty both for having physical capacity that they do not, and for feeling frustrated on their behalf and by their pace when maybe they're moving at a rate they'd consider a success. Every time I go it makes me think that I would be a horrible old person. Too crabby and mean and nasty to be worth keeping around in old age.
If I make it that far, I will be the poster child for killing the horse out to pasture for the glue, because dealing with the horse bites is just too much.

Each examination room has a different set of very detailed and graphic images of foot maladies to consider as you wait and as you avoid looking down during your procedures. Fungi, corns, callouses, ingrown, overgrown, non-growing, growths - they have it all. And it is all, believe you me, disgusting. But while I'm there for something minor, I can't help considering that the doctors see ALL of those posters come to life.

I would think Catholic podiatrists would keep Holy Thursday as their own day of personal meaning, so gross is the possibility to me of touching feet with things gone wrong all day.

As I got into the chair today, I kind of looked at my shoes on the ground in the corner, unbent my leg where I was examining a toe, and told the doctor, "I think my feet smell. Sorry."

"That's ok."

He was totally unfazed.
And though I'm sure foot stench is a normal part of the profession, it still struck me how genuinely reassuring his response was. It's not as though he was just saying it was ok, it was that it actually was. He was not bothered by it. He was going to take care of things, clean things up, overlook flaws, and fix things where he could. Send me off better than he had found me without judging me the way he did find me.

And to mix all metaphors into one gross stew, somehow Jesus and podiatry inspired a reflection on Jesus, and podiatry, and Holy Thursday, and humanity, and friendship. And that maybe the message of Holy Thursday, more than just showing the extreme lengths to which an all-powerful yet human savior would go to humble himself to the level of humanity, performing the lowest of tasks for those who followed him, is that Jesus was taking care of friends. Of those who followed him. And in that way, it's a message suggesting being there for others to take them as they are, help them work through their accumulated funk, no matter how dirty or gross or in-grown, as best as you can, and then send them on their way.

I'm fairly certain I'm probably lifting a homily from 1995 from the recesses of my memory, but somehow the acceptability of my stench today was a note to me to accept the stench of others more, especially others I care most about, and to really be thankful for those who accept my stenches (and there are many) all the time.

And, if a scalpel and hand-eye coordination is available, flake off the dead stuff or the decay that weighs friends down or gives them worry or makes them feel less than the best that they are.

So today, it's my hope that I be a better podiatrist to my friends. And put my best foot forward.
Offer a Dr. Schollder to cry on (terrible, I know).


Hm, is this both sacrilegious and spiritual reflection? Probably.
But I'm ok with it.

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