Counting fIsh

By Mark E. Snith

When I first met Chris at the medical center, I wasn’t sure what was up with him.

Chris sat next to me awaiting blood work. He was in his early 30s, with dreadlocks and crazy-colored basketball ball shoes. A sweatshirt and sagging pants rounded out his urban look.

His first words to me were, “Do you go up and down in your chair for fun?” observing my power wheelchair’s elevating seat that takes me from sitting to standing height.

I gave him my standard answer, that it’s really about increased independence and social inclusion.

“I get that,” he said with enthusiasm. “But, if it were me, I’d be going up and down all day long for fun.”

I wasn’t sure what to make of him. His comment seemed a bit odd but totally sincere. At that moment, though, a nurse came out and embraced Chris with a big hello. I’ve learned that, in medical settings, you can tell a lot about a patient by the way nurses respond to him or her. You sense who’s “family. “

With both of our blood work done, we waited for the results and I observed the way Chris interacted with everyone at the center. Medical centers typically aren’t upbeat affairs. No patient wants to be there and so jovial, happy people like Chris are not the norm. He was as though a door had opened and released all tension in the center as he fluttered about with smiles and greetings for all.

Children are rare at the medical center I attend. It’s not for pediatrics, so children are only there to support a loved one or brought by caregivers who don’t have babysitters. However, there’s a large, commercial aquarium in the waiting area, where children inevitably gather to watch the myriad of fish.

As a little girl stood staring at the fish tank, Chris walked up. He was twice her height, and you could see their reflections in the fish tank as they both stared into the glass, side by side.

“Have you ever tried to count fish in a tank?” Chris asked, pointing at the mixed pool of fish. “Watch…”

Chris began counting the fish one by one, and soon they scattered, to where he could no longer count them.

“You try, “ he said, and she did, the fish scattering again. “See, it’s impossible,” he said and the little girl laughed.

Chris’ girlfriend was with him, and as we waited, he’d jump on the other side of a glass partition and make funny faces. I couldn’t stop watching him and smiling.

Soon, both our names were called for our respective appointments. The center has a giant room with cubicles that administer various care. However, there are four private suites for those with more complex needs or privacy concerns. Based on my situation, cerebral palsy and all, I get a private suite for something as simple as a shot.

As my wife and I entered our private suite, Chris and his girlfriend entered the one next to us. Several nurses followed him in with a cart full of medical supplies like I’d never seen. He told me earlier that he had both multiple sclerosis and cancer – and the suite and the nurses and the cart hit it home to me, with heart-sinking gravity.

One could easily wonder about Chris, how is it that someone facing such profound health conditions and a seemingly unknown future can move through the world with such carefree joy?

In Chris and others, I’ve witnessed the answer: It’s not how much or how little we’re given in life, but how we view it all.

The Humanity of Foot Washing


By Mark E. Smith

There’s been an amazing trend across the country of very financially and socially successful people – from business titans to professional athletes – washing the feet of the homeless.

Now, we know how superficial we in the U.S. can be, where many look down on the homeless, walking around them on city sidewalks like they’re invisible.

And, yet, they’re not invisible. They’re as human as you and me, with a value and depth to their humanity that’s no less than anyone else’s. And, this is where foot washing comes in. See, while “foot washing” is biblical, it’s also very much about humility. It’s about simply connecting with others as-is, caring just to care, loving just to love, where superficial pettiness doesn’t separate us. Rather, our humanity unites us. After all, what’s more socially leveling and caring than washing others’ feet?

I’ve just entered my 42nd year, and if there’s one lesson I’ve learned in my life it’s not to judge others – and not to allow them to judge me. My ultimate role is to love and be loved, as ideally all of our roles should be. I don’t care if you’re worth $2-billion like a gentleman I’m currently interviewing for a writing project, or if you’re flat broke like a homeless gentleman I met in Vegas last summer and shared a poignant moment with. You can smell like cologne or urine. You can live in a mansion or a shack. You can be of any color, of any religion, of any sexual orientation, from any educational background. I don’t care. My only concern is, are you a kind person, and if so, I will be glad to wash your feet, human to human, where I trust you’d do the same for me.

The fact is, in my 42 years, I’ve known the pain and injustice of, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, being judged not based on the quality of my character, but the color of my skin, so to speak. Strangers and those close to me alike have judged me many of times, obviously based on my physical disability but for other petty reasons, as well. And, it all hurt. However, it’s all taught me to love and accept others at deeper, truer levels. I will love you for you, as-is, period. And, it’s an amazing process where it’s brought amazing people into my life who I wouldn’t have known if I were judging and stereotyping.

For some of us, we see having the opportunity to “wash others’ feet” as a blessing. Yet, imagine how wonderful it is to have one’s own feet washed, to just know that someone cares.