What shall I say, because talk I must?
That I have found a cure
for the sick?
I have found no cure
for the sick
but this crooked flower
which only to look upon
are cured. This
is that flower
for which all men
sing secretly their hymns
of praise! This
is that sacred
~William Carlos Williams from “The Yellow Flower”
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 Selzer 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 remove a painful thorn in a thumb
or clip someone’s crippling toenails
so they can step forth in freedom
or I simply sit still as someone
cries out their heart’s pain.
I cling to the crooked flower
of healing and forgiveness I was handed
over forty years ago in order to share
its sacred sweetness.
I’ve been given these tools for a reason
so need to continue to use them.
You just never know.