Wounded Angels

“The good go up. The bad go down.” That’s what I said to the physical therapist as she asked me about my crutch experience.

A while back I had a surgical procedure to repair minor damage to my left knee. With several tears in my meniscus—the cartilage that provides padding for the bones meeting under the kneecap—I was experiencing bouts of pain and stiffness. The soft tissue tears were trimmed away and the area around the tears was smoothed out by arthroscopic surgery.

With arthroscopic surgery, three pencil-thin insertions are made around the kneecap. This allows for a fiber optic connection to a camera (the better to observe the innards of your knee, young man!) and pathways for tiny tools to work on knee nasties (though on the camera’s monitor, the “tiny tools” look like the equipment that bored through the English Channel to create the London to Paris chunnel).

The surgery was done in well less than 20 minutes. And then I was in recovery, shifting from the dreamland of anesthesia to the “Huh, where am I?” stage.

Nurses hovered about me. “How are you feeling?” Nurses pulled monitors off my body. “Hope that didn’t hurt.” Finally, alert and responsive, I was informed a physical therapist would visit me. Before I went home they wanted to be sure I could handle crutches.

I know crutches. In 1982 I’d slammed my left leg into a stubborn piece of granite while backpacking in the Sierra Nevada. Bones broke; all mine. A mountain rescue—with me as the hapless victim—took place. After a less-than-fun ride in a helicopter, I ended up in a hospital at South Lake Tahoe and eventually met my first physical therapist.

“Here’s the thing,” the physical therapist calmly said as I stood, back in ’82, before a series of three steps, “always have your good leg go up first when you climb stairs with crutches and then, when you are going down steps, have your bad leg go first.” Ah, the good go up. The bad go down.

Words to live by! Well, at least for broken bones and post-arthroscopic surgery shuffling. In life, of course, the good don’t always go “up.” As Jesus said, God “sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

Being good doesn’t keep us from being broken. Being bad—even being evil—doesn’t mean a person will get her just dues and go “down.”

We wish it were so, we wish the ways of crutches were the ways of life. We wish daily life wasn’t so capricious, so hard and so dense to fathom.

Soon, my physical therapist arrived and she was pleased I already knew about the directions the “good” and the “bad” are supposed to take. She seemed delightful and confident and all of her suggestions were shared with a smile and encouragement. Upon finding out I was a pastor, we discovered she had once attended the church I serve. But the attendance ended years before when she, along with her husband and children, moved to a new home in the mountains.

She told me how much her husband had enjoyed the church.

And then she said, in the way small talk can lead to intimate revelations, that her husband had died two months ago. He was forty-five years old. An infection. Spreading. Devastating. Going to bed one night and dying in his sleep next to her before she woke.

The good go up. The bad go down. In the world of crutches, it is so.

And yet in life, and in death, it is not. The rain comes. We are all broken and surgery never can mend where most of us feel the worst pain.

In my understanding of faith, as I claim Jesus’ truthful weather forecast, the rain will fall on us. All of us. What will we do during the storms? I think of my brief moments with the physical therapist: Her gentle words, her easy laughter and her generous encouragements. How deep her grief must still be. But she touched my life and I believe, in more than the world of crutches, that the good go up.

Sometimes, we meet angels. Not the winged kind. Not the pseudo-religious cutesy kind. Angels in the guise of humans, wounded, broken and tenderhearted. Hurt never lasts where hope is present.

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