Last night I was reading the essay ‘Song of Pity’ by Andre Dubus. One thing you must know about Dubus is that an accident later in life confined him to a wheelchair; from that fated moment on he wrote pushing and pulling and turning and reaching. I’ve found his work exquisite. In that particular essay Dubus mentions a young thirty-four year old man, a quadriplegic with injuries far worse than his own.The quadriplegic’s arms and hands cannot push a wheelchair; his confinement and his mobility will be a chair with a motor. They weigh two hundred and fifty pounds. Who will carry him up even one step to a restaurant? And why would he want to be carried? When you are carried, your helplessness, and the very meatness of you, slap your soul. And it is a frightening surrender to other arms and legs.
Reading that description took me immediately to the quite familiar story of the paralytic of Mark 2, maybe too familiar. I confess that most, if not all, the times I’ve heard, preached, discussed, or life-grouped that story the emphasis has been on the four friends who carried the man and their ballsy removal of the roof in order to gain an audience with Jesus. The takeaway (a rather profane way to read Scripture) was always a challenge to be that kind of friend, willing to do whatever it takes. But last night, reading Dubus, I saw the paralytic, possibly for the first time, and he is who the story is really about. I saw his helplessness, the very meatness of him. I saw this man forever dependent on someone else, this man who could not sit on a toilet, wipe himself, shave, shower, make his bed, dress, cook, or feel the heat of a woman. I saw a soul-slapped man, and suddenly I didn’t give a damn about the four pillars of friendship or the comical breakaway roof. No, suddenly I saw a man who quite possibly did not want to be carried; I saw a man’s frightening surrender, and I began to weep.