Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I didn't grow up celebrating the season of Lent. Easter just kind of snuck up on me every year, the Sunday when we woke up extra-early for the sunrise service at the Chapel followed by a potluck breakfast in the church basement. Here on the ship, we come from so many different traditions, and so we end up celebrating many facets of the Christian faith that were unfamiliar to me before I came here. Lent is one of them.
As a community, we're going through a set of readings by Henri Nouwen , and I shared the first one at handover yesterday morning, surrounded by day volunteers and nurses and a ward full of max-fax patients, each of them recovering from or waiting for surgeries to repair and rebuild their faces.
In Bed Ten, Toyi slept quietly, the caregiver from the next bed over holding vigil at the foot of the bed, ready to translate if we needed to speak to Toyi in his obscure tribal language, Kabiye. Toyi is over sixty years old, and sometime when he was a child, he fell victim to noma , a simple infection that ravages the faces of the poor. It kills ninety percent of its victims and leaves the rest in various stages of disfigurement. Toyi lost his nose and part of his left cheek, a wide scar stretching across his face under his eyes that refused to meet ours when he was admitted.
On Tuesday, Toyi had the same surgery as Tani did two years ago, the first in a series of operations to create a nose from a flap of skin pulled from his forehead. A man who has lived a lifetime on the fringes, unable to find a way to feel human, now has a nose that covers the hole in the middle of his face.
It was Toyi that made me cry as I read Nouwen's words yesterday as he wrote about the journey of Lent.
But maybe all of this is the other side of a deep mystery, the mystery that we have no lasting dwelling place on this earth and that only God loves us the way we desire to be loved. Maybe all these small rejections are reminders that I am a traveler on the way to a sacred place where God holds me in the palm of His hand.
Our patients walk such a long road, from the time they're first aware that they're different to the day they walk up the gangway. They settle into their beds down on Deck Three, fear and hope vying for the upper hand in their eyes as we search for a way to walk alongside them.
We are all travelers in one way or another. We all start out so far from God, so far from the knowledge that He is so much closer to us than our own heartbeats. Some have father to walk than others; I have no way of understanding the life of rejection that Toyi has suffered until now, but I do know that, for this short time, our roads have become one.
It will be three weeks before Toyi's second surgery and another couple after that before he's fully healed. Maybe sometime around Easter he'll be ready to go home, and I can only hope and pray that his journey here during this time will be one that leads him to that sacred place where God holds him in the palm of His hand.