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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Hell No! I Ain't Gonna Do That


I feel like the last entries on my experiences at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries have been abstract. At least, after today’s experience, I can now say that all my past reflections revolve around emotions. My emotions shared through my relationships with members at MNM appeared to be pinnacle of my experience in this ‘gig’ called service learning. Up until today, I thought I had reached this experience-this end of the line, you cannot go any further ideal. I felt comfortable and accepted in my new environment, I thought I was making somewhat of an impact on the people I was around, and I was likewise impacted by my experiences at service.
               In writing, I feel like using the ultimate phrase “I thought I had seen everything” puts a cap on what you can follow up with your next essay. Hence, I hate to use it when I am writing several periodic essays, like service learning; unless, however, I can see the end of writing on that one topic (which I cannot with service learning.) I am making an exception today with that self-made rule.
The Technique
               I thought I had seen everything at Mercy Neighborhood Ministries. Easing into my routine, I found pleasure from the growth of my relationships. For anyone who might see MNM or any type of time-with-others service as secondary to physical labor, you really have not had the pleasure of piecing puzzles together. I was really enjoying this Zen-like trance I could enter into when I was around Ms. Shirley as she told me about the rights and wrongs of society. Today she went on about this newspaper article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that I read to her. A seventy-two year old man shot his forty-two year old neighbor when the police did not arrive after he phoned in his complaint. Ms. Shirley did not like that one bit; consequently, I listened to all the wrongs the world experiences. Her least favorite crime was apparently robbery as she repeatedly mentioned how jewelry shops happen to be robbed when people need money.   
               But something happened today that I was not expecting. I was just starting to settle into my newly formed comfort bubble. It was massage day. I admit that the first thing that crossed my mind was, “Oh great, I really could use one for my sore shoulders,” as I imagined a massage-circle form; everyone was included. Nope. I could not have been any more wrong. As service learners, we somehow became part time masseuses. Gloves did not serve as a recompense for this odd, seemingly out of place activity.
My mind split over what happened next. Half of me thought this was incredibly weird, for lack of a better term, to just randomly start giving someone I knew for less than a month a massage. Massages are intimate. And after a certain age, when one reaches some level of maturity, you do not randomly line up for massages as teens do at summer camps and sleep overs. So I felt a little out of place for two reasons when it was sprung on us to get gloves and cocoa butter; the immediate intimacy and my precedent about massages.
The Product
My second, more grounded half thought that this was the epitome of service learning. Intimacy. My mind drifted to the cleansing of feet in Catholic tradition from John 13’s Gospel. “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.” (John 13: 5.) In the recent past, when I volunteered at Camp Holiday Trails back home in Virginia, I could easily draw biblical parallels to my service. Now, for some reason, I find it border-line hokey to draw out those parallels. Maybe it is the result of too many comparative religion courses that have opened my eyes to see that Christianity is not the sole mission-oriented faith. It could also be the consequence of returning to a heavily Catholic-dominated student population that helps facilitate the above misconception I have/had; I feel like I play devil’s advocate too often when I hear the Bible being thrown around like some textbook reference everyone knows.
Yet, as I rubbed the lotion into Ms. Gladys’ gnarled hands, I connected to something more than skin deep. I could see actual pain in her hands. And while the concepts of emotions and relationships are not tangible, (yet, both their objects are,) I found that physicality permeated the remaining distance between me as “servicer” and my “service.” The emotions create, nourish, and hinder the relationship which is then escalated to an incredibly intimate level. Even in the simplest act of a hand massage. Just to pull some non-Christian connections into this deeper form of service; I think of yoga’s notion within the word yoga: its literal definition is “yoking.” I see that two sets of emotions are yoked together through physical touch to form a deeper relationship. Similarly, isn’t the term islam transliterated as submission? Maybe it is a stretch to connect that with humility-both of which I needed in order to massage Ms. Gladys. Confucianism: deep respect for elders.
I do not know how, since I had gloves on, the scent of cocoa butter lingers as I type this. I admit again that I am still shaken up from the forced portion of me having to suddenly perform physical service. Nevertheless, it was a learning experience that I am continuing to think about each time I catch a waft of lotion.   

1 comment:

  1. Incredible. I loved it Jack! It's awesome how you can move beyond the "ickiness" of touching, even massaging someone you don't really know, and actually connect with God through your humility check. I'm so proud of you :)