I’ve even taken to my mattress a couple afternoons, which around here is unheard of. But the most amazing thing unfolded one of those afternoons, the first one when I was stretched out and aching and hotter than hot. A young lad came to my bedside and insisted he was the fever fixer. He had a plan, he said, and he set out to execute.
From down the stairs and around the bend, I heard the clunk of ice cubes being procured. I heard the linen closet squeaking open. I heard the old metal tray being pulled from where we store those sorts of things. And then I heard the hobbling sound of my sweet boy—the one with one leg in a brace and one arm in a cast—climbing the stairs.
He appeared at my bedside bearing a tray that held a dripping wet washcloth, a cup of ice chips and an apple tucked pertly in a white souffle cup. Before I could say a word, he slipped his cast-less hand into the puppet of a washcloth, one of those terry-towel hand puppets meant to make bath time for little ones a theater of suds.
This particular washcloth, the one that was always his favorite, happens to be a hippo. So my bedside attendant stretched wide the hippo’s mouth, grabbed two cubes of ice, and proceeded to anoint my forehead in this icy, dripping bath. Next, he reached for my wrists, and up and down my arms and legs. “You’ll be OK” were the only words he whispered the whole long while. Over and over, he repeated: “You’ll be OK,” as if the words alone were incantations, as if a prayer aloud.
I felt a tear roll down my cheek. It’s true, yes, that a wet washcloth applied to fevered brow has long been wielded here for curative effect. And ice chips in a cup, often dripped with honey, have long been an apothecary staple in this old house. But never in my life have I been as gentle, as determined, as tender as that boy was to me.
The tenderness he learned from his papa. Of that I’m certain. I, too, am learning tenderness—all these years later—from my sweet boy’s papa. It’s a lesson without end.
While the icy rinse didn’t make the fever go away, it decidedly worked wonders. For days now, my sweet boy has attended me with his hippo and his ice cubes. I asked him amid one of the icy rubdowns if he’d ever thought of being a doctor or a nurse, because he certainly had the healer’s touch. Nope, said he. “I don’t like blood, and I’m not good at science.”
The marvel here is that we often think the long nights we’ve spent on bathroom floors, the midnight hours when we’re the ones knocking ice cubes from the freezer, we think of those, sometimes, as invisible hours, times that heed no notice. What we might not realize is that in that transactional moment, when ice practically sizzles on a fevered brow, when a kid who’s so sick he can barely open his droopy lids lets us slip an ice chip to his tongue, what we’re doing is so much more than knocking back a fever. We are quietly, and without folderol, teaching something sacred to the essence of being human. Maybe fevers and flus were invented for the simple purpose of one someone being invited to try to heal another.
The marvel here—the reminder that came in dripping ice cubes this week—is that there is a life-and-death curriculum unfurling here in the quiet of our humdrum little lives. Our whole life long we are teaching and learning that most magnificent of golden rules: love as you would be loved.
I remembered this week that I am ever teaching, and lessons are ever being learned, even when I don’t think a single soul notices, nor pays attention. So I’d best try to live as tenderly, as full of heart, as my sweet child is teaching me to be.
That kid and his ice cubes, they more than did their job. In fact, they melted me.
This post is a modified reprint from Barbara Mahany’s blog, Pull Up a Chair.
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