A woman came to Jesus. She had been bent over for 18 years. What did she see, all those 18 years? Feet. Dirt. Dogs. But also children, and lost coins, and maybe even a forgotten treasure buried in the ground. Who could have fully seen her face in all those years? It had been so long that everyone forgot what she looked like. They forgot who she was. They forgot that she was a daughter of Abraham, and maybe she did too. That’s why Jesus has to remind her, and reminding he made her well. He also made some people very angry, while others “kept on rejoicing and praising God.”
I was told that my grandmother was a tall woman in her time. By the time I remember her, she was bent and not at all tall. Once upon a time, she was five feet and eight or ten inches, depending upon which daughter was telling about her. That was an extraordinary height for someone who had been severely malnourished in childhood, for someone who spent her growing years bent over picking cotton and planting tobacco, bent from the beatings of an alcoholic father, bending to care for her younger brothers and sisters who, except for one, would not survive to adulthood. The cruelty of her aging was that the years of sweetness she spent as a wife, mother, restaurant owner, home remodeler, seamstress, bedside nurse and friend –all faded into mist . Meanwhile, the years that bent her over were more vivid than that morning’s overstrong coffee. When one becomes bent over from the troubles and burdens of a life, it’s not long before all one sees is feet…and dirt. Hurts and grievances, hardships and grief become like burrs stuck on a wool dress. Our stories can become litanies of what we have survived: the Great Depression, the (fill in the blank) War, Cancer, accidents, injuries, abuse, divorce, bankruptcy, and, and and _______________ until we become bent over under the sheer weight of them. For some, a new perversity takes over. What I survived has to be exponentially worse than what the survivor I have just met has endured. I have to be busier, more harried, more injured, more, more, more until I have become the sum of my survivorships. I, and those who know me, forget who I am, daughter of Abraham, Child of God. There are many ways to become a woman bent, both of one’s own making and under the oppression of others. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.
Now, at 5 feet and one inch, the ground seems considerably closer to me than for many of my tall friends. I endured none of the back breaking and bending suffering that my grandmother survived. Nevertheless, it seems that my body has somatized my stress: “You’ve got a lot on your shoulders” (two major rotator cuff surgeries), “You’ve got a lot on your plate” (so I eat it!) and now this back thing. Arthritis. Bone spurs. Tingling numbing pain. I did notice, I did, that I was beginning to droop. The shoulders began to drop. My chin sank towards my chest. And the ground grew closer. I saw more feet. Alas, no forgotten treasures, at least none that the bank might recognize. Enter the Physical Therapist, “Derek.” I could have been his grandmother. The first day he lectures me for twenty minutes about posture. I’m skeptical. But I hurt, so I’m willing to listen and submit. “Remind yourself 200 times a day to correct your posture. Reset your jelly. Stretch. Pull your chin back.” Dear Lord, my Aunt Leona has come back from the grave. Everything is worse for two weeks, until one morning I wake up and…and….it’s better.
It’s all beginning to come back to me now. What the horizon looks like. How to imagine pictures in the clouds again. Who I am when I am not working six days a week, when I am not stooped by worry and trouble, who I was on June 3, 1960, when in fear for my life Pastor John Derrick ran alongside as I was carried into surgery, sprinkling water from the plastic water tumbler he grabbed from the nightstand, still smeared with my mother’s memorable red lipstick. Ah, there she is. Child of God. Jesus reminds her who she is. Tentatively, searching her body for imminent pain and rigidity, she straightens up. Now remind yourself 200 times a day to correct your posture. Remind yourself again who you are and whose you are. Straighten up and look around at those who are ready too join you in rejoicing and praising God for the wonder they see that is you. Everything might get worse for a while, but one morning it will happen. You wake up and…..and…..it’s true.