Once upon a time, in a world completely different than the one we live in now, i wrote this piece about touch. I wrote it in a world that had no idea covid was coming. I was just a sick person in the hospital who was very touch deprived and thinking over concepts of sickness, isolation, and Jesus. i found this in my drafts and i think it might resonate even more now than it did when i wrote it. enjoy.
At work, someone asks me if I am sick. How the hell am I supposed to answer that? Well, I answer in the only appropriate way, which is to say the short way, which is to say that I just said yes. She covers her face and takes a step back before asking me where my store keeps the Adidas section. After I point her in the right direction, she scurries off before she can catch what I have. But not before I notice that underneath her North Face jacket, she is wearing scrubs. I watch her leave because I can’t believe she of all people has no idea how to treat sick people.
The short answer was, yes, I am sick. But I’m not sick in the Contagious way or the I’ve Got The Flu sort of way. I’m sick in the I Am Never Going To Get Better kind of way. Like the, My Body Is Attacking Me And It Cannot Be Reversed type of sick. I can’t really explain to her that my lack of an immune system is no threat to her; that she is more likely to get me sick than the other way around. So I let her have her space the way I’m always letting people have their space.
The same way, how when in middle school, after I had lice no one wanted me sitting next to them anymore. When we all made plans to hang out it was always, “hey Faith, have you gotten a lice check?” or the “Faith, no offense, but my mom said you can’t come over-like I love you! But just my mom said she doesn’t want me to get lice.” Of course, nevermind I hadn’t had lice since last summer and all the kids at church still wanted to act like I had given it all to them. I had no other friends but them; I just wanted to stop feeling like it was all my fault. But somehow, years later, people still asked me if I still had lice. In the 6th grade I found out exactly how it felt to be a pariah; a skill I never wanted to have but needed to have.
I needed it for the day I was called out on a missions trip for being immodest in high school. Me, working my ass off in this 100 degree Tennessee heat, wearing the exact same thing everyone else was wearing; a tank top, one that had two finger length straps and reached all the way down to my hips. I was showing no cleavage. I was told that the next day, I wasn’t allowed to wear that shirt to work camp. The next day, I watched every girl on my team wearing the same shirt as me. Again. And again. And again. But I knew it wasn’t about the shirt. It was about me. My body. My wrong, sinful body that was distracting the men from working. The parts of my body that caused strong men to stumble. I couldn’t wear a shirt because it hugged me in a way that showed I had two sin traps stuck to my chest.
They didn’t like they could see the shape of my breasts. Because that was what I thought when I got dressed that morning. “I need to find a way to distract the boys and make them like me. I don’t care about the heat or the practicality of sleeveless shirts or the fact that this shirt actually makes me feel beautiful for once. No. Boys.” And the other girls with Normal Sized Boobs or the Skinny Girls or the Flat Chested Girls? They were fine. No temptation there. So in high school I was taught that my breasts were bad and needed to be hidden away under layers and layers of baggy clothing. Actually, all my life I was under the impression that my body was the problem. My body was sinful. My body was wrong.
Some days, days like today, when all I can think about is the shit that I have believed in the name of the Gospel, I find myself simultaneously so entranced by Jesus.
I’m in the hospital being treated as a Sick Person and marinating on the fact that throughout my life, even when I was healthy, I always felt like the Sick Person in the room, and it’s difficult to swallow that pill. When people who claim Jesus go out and say the things they do and preach the things they preach; I get angry. I am angry. I ask myself why I still stick around, and the answer is usually Jesus. Like, damn. I wish they taught him in the way you read about him in the bible. I wish I paid more attention to the times he has been taught well.
There is this story in the bible about Jesus just being around his best friends on the Sabbath and they’re at the synagogue doing what they do best, telling stories, and this woman is there, this sick woman with back pain, and when he sees her he really sees her! Like, the greek word is “horaō” which is like, to see, but also can be translated as “to see with the mind; to perceive, to know.” And it says this woman has been sick for 18 years. 18 long years. I can just imagine her walking up to Jesus and him just seeing in his minds eye all the doctors she’s seen and the gatherings she’s missed and the nights she has curled up on the outskirts of society and sobbed because she has been so so alone; and I can see Jesus not needing to ask the dreaded question; “Are you unclean?” “Are you sick?” Because he knows what kind of sick she is. The My Back Aches And Sometimes The Pain Is Too Much To Bare kind of sick. And the I Have Been Alone For 18 Years And I Just Want To Be Loved And Sometimes The Social Isolation Is Worse Than The Disease kind of sick. He must have looked at her the way I imagine he looks at me. In the way that says “I know it is 3am in the emergency room and no one is listening to your pain but I am here.” He is with her. She’s standing here, in this place she is forbidden to be at, and Jesus comes to her and he touches her.
They share this moment together and God, I can’t even imagine being in her shoes. You know, like you’re a social outcast and no one wants to be with you, no one is allowed to be with you, and then this man comes up and dares to lay a hand on you! A man! In a temple! This man touches you and you don’t know how the people around you are reacting-some are horrified, some are worried about him breaking the literal law and some are worried because this is Jesus and a woman and he is touching her and its risqué and intimate and women should only touch their husbands-but you are not seeing them. You are seeing him and being seen by him.
Like, I can’t imagine being her.
But if I close my eyes really hard I can. I can see myself in 7th grade having lice and how much I just wanted to be invited inside and to be a part of something. I never would have forced my way into church on the Sunday after I found out; after I was told not to show up. I never would have the courage to make myself known to Jesus and demanding to be tolerated by others the way this woman did. And I can’t imagine being touched in a way that looks so scandalous to others but is the most holy touch to you. But sometimes, sometimes I close my eyes and I can see the way my love touched me for the first time and how, for the first time hand prints didn’t feel like sandpaper against my skin and I didn’t worry about being unclean because I knew it was a holy moment. You know, one of those moments where it just hits you what the hell possessed Soloman to write the erotica he did and what possessed people to call that erotica the holy word of God. Like, God made touch and called it good. And sometimes we have touches like those that remind us that our bodies were never the broken vessels that the Church taught us they are.
And yes, Jesus heals her of her sickness and there’s all this drama about him performing a healing on the Sabbath and all this other cool stuff, but the part that gets me, what always fucking gets me, is the fact that Jesus touches the sick and that he breaks down every law, social code, and church policy in the process. Jesus goes all fuck your rules I’m helping this woman. And I think it’s so badass. I think it’s ironic the way we have created “Christian” eg; Mini Christ to mean “hypocritical, judgemental, all about rules, and purity,” when Jesus was the one who hated all of that. He gave a big “fuck you” to the religious people and did whatever was necessary to make sure hurting people were seen. And every time I’ve wanted to walk away from my faith I find myself thinking about stories like that. I think that no matter how much people may try to bastardize the bible and twist it to fit their ideas, it will always be there existing, and when you read it for yourself after pushing away all the baggage and the mold, you find something that speaks to you. Stories like these have spoken to me.
I don’t know what I was expecting to write when I sat down in a hospital bed to write about my body and Jesus. But sometimes I get these feelings and it moves me a little bit. It’s funny, I always have a hard time listening to Christians talk because they say so much shit I don’t understand and it sounds so bizarre; but then I write pieces like this and I have to reconcile all over again that these people I rub shoulders with and get into arguments with are a part of who I am and who I am becoming. They may not have always accepted my body but I’m glad we both look to a God who does. Sometimes I even get ambitious and start to think that I don’t need everyone in a church to agree with me because shit, I am a mess, but a long time ago another mess of a woman approached Jesus and she seemed to do just fine. I figure I’ll be just fine too.