The Least of These

Matthew 25:37-40

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?”

“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.”

Kiawah Island has been redeemed in my mind over the past year, and it took something as neat as this for it to be so.

It was not the island itself that I detested in my mind. Alone, it is a beautiful spot, if you enjoy the low country. It was simply a matter of association, like not being able to stomach, ever again the last thing you ate before getting food poisoning.

We first came here on an extended family beach trip when my oldest daughter was almost four years old. On our first evening, we packed up a wagon, and took our two small children to the beach. Our youngest was not yet one, so she spent most of her time eating sand. My oldest was ecstatic to play in the ocean, and went out into the water holding her father’s hand. She was tossed around by the waves and loved every second of it. We were so thankful for a break.

The next morning around 5:30am, I heard my oldest daughter whispering my name. I turned on the light, to see that she had become very pale. She complained that her stomach hurt and began to cry. Soon after she woke up fully, she got sick. Violently so. I will spare you the details; I do not want to be a blogger who puts her children’s bodily functions in print. Even if it is in context.

I put her in the bathtub to calm her down, and to clean her up. For the next 8 hours, she struggled with an intestinal virus, the likes of which I had never before experienced as a mother. I grew very worried as she became lethargic and dehydrated.

I could not stand it any longer, and I panicked.  I packed her up in my van and went to find a phone number for a doctor at the club house. I am not sure why I took her with me, or why I did not have someone go instead of  me. I wasn’t thinking clearly at all, because I was a very young mother who had not weathered before, this type of  illness in her child.

Looking back, I remember that I had not showered or brushed my hair. I left the house wearing old soccer shorts, a t-shirt, and a baseball hat.  Shoes are questionable. As we drove to the island club house, she got sick again. I carried her limp body into a very nice facility, and asked the man behind the counter for the restroom. He was uninterested in us, and did not speak or look in our direction. He just pointed over his shoulder.

After I cleaned her up again, I went back to the front desk to get some help. My daughter began to feel hot against my skin. I was so overwhelmed and afraid. I felt vulnerable and desperate. My least two favorite things to feel.

I stood right in front of the man, who now was intentionally avoiding eye contact with me, and asked him to help me find a doctor for my daughter. He was very dismissive and unmoved by my situation. Stoically, he asked me the address where we were staying on the island. I had no idea. More contempt for my ignorance. He then asked me my name. I told him my father’s name since he was the one who had rented the house.

I will never in my life forget the next 30 seconds after he typed the information I gave him into the computer. His face changed all of a sudden. Physically. I do not know what he saw on the screen that caught his attention. What it was that finally made him consider my humanity and needs. It had to be either my father’s name or where we staying that gave him a reason to have a change of heart.

But a change of heart was exactly what he had for us. He was all of a sudden very kind, attentive, and helpful. I left the club house with the phone number of a doctor on the island, who would ‘happily’ be awaiting my call. On a Sunday.

The doctor called us shortly after I arrived back at the house, and informed us of a very bad rotavirus that he had seen all over the island. He gave us a prescription that settled down my daughter’s digestive system, so she could rest and begin to recover. And also gave me all of the things I needed to know about how to avoid severe dehydration which was common with this particular strand of virus. She was back to herself the day before we left the island.

I try to remember this story when I myself am tempted to be dismissive of other people’s needs, which is often. I have more in common with the man behind the desk at the club house than I care to acknowledge, but not recognizing it does not make it any less of a reality. I try to remember what it felt like to be so fearful, desperate, without knowledge, and dependant on the intervention of another when I encounter someone who has found him/herself in the same position.

But mostly, I try to remember how in one moment, my newly discovered ‘status’ determined that I was worthy of compassion, and how that made me feel less human than being ignored and dismissed. Because, I knew that I was not receiving help because of me. Nothing of myself found me worthy in that man’s eyes.  Certainly, not my need nor my helplessness. Not even my humanity could rouse kindness.

I do not want to be someone who operates with that kind of sliding scale, though I know I am quite capable of doing so. daily.

May grace abound in me, for the ‘least of these.’  And may I always remember that…I am one of them.

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