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Wash one another’s feet

Close up of feed in candles
By on March 1, 2021
Photography: 
Liana Gallant
Midwife Gregoria Hernandez and Liana (right), who attends St. James, Perth, and is a member of the diocesan PWRDF working group.
Midwife Gregoria Hernandez and Liana (right), who attends St. James, Perth, and is a member of the diocesan PWRDF working group.

It’s been almost a year now since I visited with the midwives in the mountains of Chiapas, Mexico. Many of these women had at one time been supported in a project, partnered with PWRDF, and as a retired nurse in the field of maternal-child health, I was very fortunate have the opportunity to be welcomed into their tiny isolated community.

My life was profoundly changed after meeting these women and memories have been flooding back while I’ve been going through my photos. COVID-19 still seemed very far away early last March 2020, just a little blip on the international news when I was visiting Jijotol, north of San Cristobal, the state capital city.  I remember so clearly though the feeling in the pit of my stomach when one young man expressed his anxiety that I might actually be bringing this strange new germ into their community. His home had no running water, but Internet he did have, and he was following the news carefully. My thoughts immediately swept back to the ways Western viruses had previously decimated Indigenous people in his homeland. No wonder he was worried!

 One of the special photos I treasure is of a young mother, carrying a heavy bundle of firewood on her back, a very young baby strapped in a sling on her chest and a toddler with a terrible face rash clinging to her side. If she was the same age as the other young mothers I met there, I guessed she’d probably be about 16, maybe 17 years old.  Like the others, she looked much older though, life there is very hard on women.  As soon as I met her, I wondered what I could possibly do about the rash on the little boy’s face. I was pretty sure it was scabies, and probably all over the rest of his body too, just covered up with his ragged clothes. I usually carry a small cake of hotel soap in my purse when I travel, so I dug it out. Then I remembered I had some Polysporin in the travel first-aid kit in my suitcase!  Through the translator, I explained how to apply the ointment after washing with the soap. This young mother was so thankful, so very grateful that I felt embarrassed. It was such a small thing to give. Yes, “it was better than nothing,” but I felt really inadequate. Really, really inadequate.

When I asked if I could take a picture of she and her children, her face lit up with a shy and radiant smile and she nodded yes! I reached for my camera and that’s when I noticed her feet’. It was Lent and suddenly our Anglican celebrations of Maundy Thursday popped into my mind. In the flash of a few seconds, I thought of the clean and prepared feet that are washed in our symbolic liturgies. I thought of the experiences I’d had of washing the feet of many, many patients over my years as nurse. Then I wondered what it would be like to wash her feet.  They were like nothing the feet I’d seen before. Her young teenage skin was tough, cracked and filled with ground-in dirt, her toes already misshapen, the nails yellowed, torn and broken. 

As I look back now, I think of the feet that Jesus washed in the Gospels. They’d probably have been more like this young woman’s feet than the clean feet some of us present on Maundy Thursday. I’m thinking of his command to wash one another’s feet, to serve one another in the ways that he showed us.  A year has passed, and the question still burns in my heart. Whose feet are easy to wash and whose feet are much harder? Whose journey am I willing to share? 

Washing the feet of another person can take many forms. When done in love, it can give us an intimate glimpse into that person’s life, perhaps even allowing us to see and understand more fully the difficult road they walk. Jesus is always asking us to open our eyes wide, to reach out to others with the same compassion that he shows to us. He invites us to watch carefully for ways that we can walk alongside each other, to generously love and serve each other.

Author

  • Liana Gallant

    Liana Gallant is a member of the diocesan PWRDF Working Group.

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