The Health of Self-Forgetfulness


The nail of each big toe was the horn of a goat.  Thick as a thumb and curved, it projected down over the tip of the toe to the underside.  With each step, the nail would scrape painfully against the ground and be pressed into his flesh.  There was dried blood on each big toe. 

It took an hour to do each big toe.  The nails were too thick even for my nail cutters.  They had to be chewed away little by little, then flattened out with the rasp, washed each toe, dried him off, and put his shoes and socks back on.  He stood up and took a few steps, like someone who is testing the fit of a new pair of shoes. 
“How is it?”
“It don’t hurt,” he said, and gave me a smile that I shall keep in my safety deposit box at the bank until the day I die.

I never go to the library on Wednesday afternoon without my nail clippers in my briefcase.
You just never know.

~Richard Seltzer from “Toenails” from Letters to a Young Doctor




I know for a while again

the health of self-forgetfulness,
looking out at the sky through
a notch in the valleyside,
the black woods wintry on
the hills, small clouds at sunset
passing across. And I know
that this is one of the thresholds
between Earth and Heaven,
from which even I may step
forth and be free.
– Wendell Berry from “Sabbath Poems”



Whenever I lose perspective about what I’m trained to do
and who I am meant to serve,
when I wallow in the mud of self-importance
rather than in the health of self-forgetfulness~

I wash out a plug of wax from a deaf ear
and restore hearing
or clip someone’s crippling toenails
so they can step forth in freedom.

I’ve been given these tools for a reason
so need to use them.
You just never know.




11 thoughts on “The Health of Self-Forgetfulness

  1. As always, blessed beyond measure by the intimate sharing of your heart….I feel I know you…and wish I could sit and have a cup of tea and talk! So I will share a recent poem I wrote with you

    Even In This

    I see You….slicing ,pruning,cutting away the growth. Bleeding heart bows stumped arms will lift and offer praise Salty rain streams from eyes shut masking tumultuous rivers emotions and thoughts clashing rapids in a barren land

    Open glance slides across beauty laid bare, carpet of glorious grains,reflecting light weeds from sea, emeralds formed by Your hand cornucopia of shells, simple complexity shouts triumphantly to You a Love Song

    And here I choose You again Hoovering presence , breath of Life actively seeking pursuing, chasing me keeping watching protecting My heart cries YES!

    Come invade, conquer softly love

    Monika Otto


  2. “So he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.” Thank you for the reminder, Emily.

    We are called like children to imitate the same gentle, thorough, meticulous, selfless way, called to shine like stars in the night sky, for a warped and crooked generation, washing feet, clipping toenails, teaching English, giving rides to doctor appointments, helping immigrants settle in… Time to get up from the meal, roll up sleeves, and wash and wash.

    Keep shining.


  3. To say the photography is gorgeous, Emily, comes at the risk of you thinking your palette of words went unnoticed, or unheeded. Nevertheless, the images were gorgeous. Sabbath-fitting. Perfect mirrors of Spirit.



  4. Perfect – in all ways, in each contribution and reader comment to this post.
    I can only add:
    Can we do less than He — follow in His footsteps, do as He taught, do as He did —
    especially ‘for the least among us?’


  5. What a wonderful post and comments on my dear farmer husband’s birthday! We spent this early morning, side by side, hand pulling weeds from his cherished vegetable garden. Time to think in the quiet; deep thoughts coming to the surface like the tap roots of the water weeds trying to take moisture from the plants that will bear us produce. Coolness of the morning to remember as the day grows hotter.
    Thank you for sharing your heart Emily.


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