Tag Archives: lepers

Biker Gangs and Meth Addiction…

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I used to do nerve conduction velocity tests for a physical medicine clinic. You calculate a nerve conduction velocity by running electricity along the nerve and measuring the distance. So, yeah, I electrocuted people for a living. I had a lab coat, a tape measure, and a lovely two-pronged zapper. I was very official.

You’d be with a patient for half-an-hour and, often, you’d end up getting the same patients back months or years later. In this way, I made a few friends.

One was a fellow who had been in prison and gone through a Christian recovery program. He was a round jolly man, with a pasty face, and the most horrible teeth. He was kind and funny and he told me some incredible stories.

He used to be part of a biker gang, evidently, a real one, not the kind of biker gang I used to imagine when someone said “biker gang”. He was writing his biography, brought it to me to proofread once. It was twenty-or-so loose leaf pages with atrocious penmanship and nonexistent grammar telling the story of a drug pickup that turned into a pedophile ass-kicking. Oh, that kind of biker gang! Yes, the real kind.

He often lauded his ability to ass-kick a pedophile, even in prison. There was some shit you just didn’t stand for. I can’t say I disagreed with him.

I don’t remember why he had gone to prison, but I do remember that his body was messed up from getting into a meth cooking accident. The meth being cooked had gotten into his suit. It was all over him, trapped against his body like that.

He used to do drugs he told me. But he was done with that now. He had gone through recovery. I was proud of him. We prayed together. I prayed for him.

I watched him leave one day and one of the providers appeared at my shoulder.

“You know what those sores are all over his face don’t you?”

“Yeah,” I said, “They’re the sores from when the meth got in his suit.”

“No,” he said, “You get those from doing meth. You have to be currently using.”

“Oh,” I said.

All this to say, I recognized the sores today on a woman’s face in the laundromat. She was there with a paranoid old woman and an angry man. They were a frightful trio whose presence totally absorbed the corner where they were sitting.

She walked with her head down.

And I know nothing about this woman except that she’s addicted to meth.

What would it be like if I walked around wearing my weakness for everyone to see? What if every loss of temper or self-control flared out in red spots on my face? Would I be less likely to give into the temptation if I knew everyone would be able to read it there? What a horrible consequence. I deserve every single sore she had, but, oh!, how glad I was they weren’t mine to wear! How fortunate I counted myself this afternoon to carry the consequences of my sin invisible in my breast.

For, I am the leper, the sore marked meth addict, the walking unclean.

Pity used to be considered a Christian virtue. It’s sort of gotten a bad rap. “Don’t pity me!” “How dare you pity me!” I don’t know. I think there’s still a place for pity as a virtue. I pitied the ex-biker patient. I pitied the woman. And I only feel grateful that God pities me.

The Lepers…

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Living in your childhood home for a year with your own small family requires a difficult balance of looking forward with vision and being present in the moment.

In the beginning of our stay I didn’t have much of a problem staying in the moment. I was pregnant and morning sick. My body was an uncomfortable shell bringing me ever back into the now. Caring for two small children, as well, left me little energy to daydream beyond my nap time snack.

I wasn’t looking farther ahead than another labor, another birth, another dear little baby.

But after baby three arrived and our stay closed up on a year I began to allow myself to look forward, to dream a little about what our place might look like, bay views, and those little city walks overflowing into artistic vigor.

Thankfulness is a moment by moment thing. And my moments were becoming more interspersed with discontent and the adult version of temper tantrums, which we call complaining.

One morning God made my kids particularly difficult in order to trick me into opening the Bible and reading the story of the ten lepers. What started out as a lesson for them ended up doing its trick on me. I was floored by the truth that I was indeed rushing from one blessing to the next without taking the time to turn back and say thank you.

An image came to me and I started a linocut.

There’s something meditative about carving your lesson into linoleum. Something, you hope, that will enable you to remember it better, carry it deeper.  Perhaps you carve it into yourself a bit with the muscle memory, the tension between linoleum block, gouge and palm.

I had a very difficult time settling on the emotion that would be on the face of the leper who had turned back. I liked this one:

Not Happy Enough

Not Happy Enough

But my husband and mother said he didn’t seem happy enough, “C’mon, Barbara, he’s just been healed of leprosy!”
So I tried this:

Too Happy.

Too Happy.

But I wasn’t satisfied that this expression was any more profound than a man who had just found a fiver in his loincloth. I needed to add a touch of awe.

So, you can see how it turned out:

The Lepers

The Lepers

I was going to title it “Turn Back”, but for clarity reasons I ended up calling it “The Lepers. This is my tenth linocut. I hope you enjoy it.