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When the Water is Troubled

By the pool of Beth-za’tha and its remedial waters is where Jesus came across the invalids. Many of them, apparently. The blind, the lame, the paralyzed. The broken and discarded pieces of humanity that were and are easy to walk by. But not Jesus, of course. Jesus summons such people to life. Jesus says things like, Stand up. Take your mat. Walk.

There’s no pool at the dementia ward. Just doors with security codes and heavy iron bars. Hand sanitizer stations and signs with rules and regulations for visitors. That kind of thing. I walk to my friend’s room to say hello. I know he won’t recognize me—he hasn’t for some time—but I’m in the neighbourhood. And it is, after all, nice to say hello.

I open the door and cast a glance to the bed, the chair. Both empty. The bathroom light is on but nobody there either. Old country music is blaring from the TV, but no sign of my friend. I’m about to leave when I see him there, splayed out on the floor, right in front of me, just behind his walker, pants around his ankles, legs tangled up in a telephone cord, moaning softly. My heart sinks and I want to weep at the sight. It is heartbreaking and undignified as scenes get.

A nurse enters at that moment and shrieks. I can’t tell if it’s horror? Compassion? Guilt? Maybe all of the above. More attendants are summoned, I am asked to wait outside. With some difficulty, they get him off the floor, clean him up. He’s not injured, but he’s irritated, swinging, refusing, muttering angrily. We’re just trying to help! they desperately plead. But he doesn’t want them, and he doesn’t want their kind of help.

Eventually, I’m allowed in. He’s in bed, under the covers, eyes darting wildly around. I say hello, ask him if he remembers me, ask him if he’s ok. A thin smile appears, then recedes. A few disconnected words trickle out of his mouth, but nothing that penetrates the dense fog. You look… “Familiar?” I opine, hopefully. No, you look… He smiles and turns his head toward the window.

I sit there for a few moments. I think about Jesus by the pool, Jesus with the broken pieces, Jesus who calls into being things that are not, Jesus who picks people up off the floor and sends them on their way rejoicing. I think about the question he asks. Do you want to be made well? Well of course, Jesus. Kind of an insensitive question, don’t you think? Who wouldn’t? Whether you’re splayed out in on the floor of the dementia ward or in the portico by the pool, nobody wants to stay there. Everyone wants to get up, surely.

I look around. I wish for a healing pool and for an angel to trouble the waters.

I look back at my friend. “Do you want me to read for you?” I ask. He looks vacantly past me. I walk over to his bookshelf and pick up a dusty copy of the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version. I show him the book. “Do you know which book this is?” I ask. He smiles and shakes his head. I think back to his earlier days, to theological discussions, to lively debate, to speculative interpretations. I sigh.

I turn to the fifth chapter of John’s gospel and begin reading. I read about the invalids, the broken pieces lying on the floor. I read Jesus’ famous question and the man’s response. No one’s there to put me into the pool when the water is troubled… I think about my friend lying, moaning on the floor, with no one there to help… I read the stirring conclusion: Stand up, take your mat and walk!! I read that part with a bit of extra gusto. Maybe even a bit of helpless rage.

I look over at my friend when I read that last line. He’s grinning.

He looks over at me when I close the bible. He leans over and whispers, “Was that… you?” I ponder this question for a minute. Is he asking me if I’m the man who was healed in the story? If I was the one doing the healing? If I was the one reading from the fifth chapter of John’s gospel from the Revised Standard Version? If I was the one who helped him off the floor earlier? If I was the one who cleaned him up? Is this just another random assortment of words connected to nothing in particular? Who can say?

“Yeah,” I say on a whim. “It was me.”  

He smiles more broadly and says, “You’re lucky.”

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Exactly the right answer. “It was me.” And his exactly right too. “You’re lucky.” Thanks for this Ryan. You were the angel moving the waters. When we used to read Scripture to Dad (Alzheimer’s) we sensed the stirring in him. When we read to Mom (dementia), she responds with wonderment, as if a child and hearing it the first time. The prodigal son story, for example – “Wow!”

    May 24, 2019
    • Thanks very kindly, Dora. I love the way you put it: “as if a child and hearing it for the first time.”

      May 24, 2019
  2. Marg Neufeld #

    Oh wow… my heart breaks… & soars in wonderment at once… Thank-you!

    May 24, 2019
  3. howard wideman #

    Wow. Intense

    Sent from my iPhone


    May 24, 2019
  4. mike #

    …very sad situation. The incidences of dementia-alzheimer’s-CJD seem to be reaching epidemic proportions. How soon we forget the back-story:

    May 24, 2019

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