Washing Maria's Feet By Dick Duerksen

Photo: Dick Duerksen
She arrived at the rural clinic just before lunch, walking barefoot through a raspberry field steeper than the Washington monument's stairway.

The triage nurse, a teenager on her first mission trip, greeted her and her silent husband.

"Name?"

"Age?"

"Married?"

"Where does it hurt?"

She spoke no English or Spanish, only the Quechua her grandmother had taught her.

Her cloudy eyes, multilingual, spoke to her husband as if he were Adam.

Her answers were soft as rabbit fur.

"Maria Elena Gonzalez de Guzman"
"More than 80...at least."
"To him. Forever."
"Everywhere."

Maria Elena Gonzalez de Guzman took her place on a cold metal chair next to "him." They waited together. Just as they have done everything since before the volcano made the mountains.

The clinic manager, a US Air Force nurse who has retired into caring for teenage kids and ancient women, stopped by her chair and stopped breathing. It wasn't her ash-stained bowler hat or her layers of woolen clothing. It was her feet. They were bare and ugly.

Maria Elena's feet had gnarled like the roots of a great tree. Her ankles, burnished ironwood burl, rose above Supports that would have given Shrek two hideous reasons for pride.

She waited her turn, feet planted deep on the concrete floor.

Their numbers were called together, and they shuffled into the physician’s circle of cold chairs together. Just as they had always done everything, Together.

The Lady Doc, a slim Army Emergency Room resident who had come along to find herself, stood and welcomed Maria Elena Gonzalez de Guzman into her examination circle.

Blood pressure, pulse, respiration, lungs, some basic questions, and then the exam became personal.

"Where does it hurt?"

"Everywhere." Her grimace and wave did not need translation.

"Especially my back. It is hard to carry the firewood and the water uphill anymore."

The Lady Doc reached for Maria Elena's hands and raised her to a semi-standing position. The exam was brief and conclusive.

Maria Elena's back would bring a cry of personal pain from any chiropractor with the courage to examine it.

Then the Lady Doc looked down. Way down to the brown roots supporting the bent-back woman standing before her like an Inca Queen.

The visible toe nails were cracked, split , and hammered like the crude grub hoes their owner carried to the field every day.

The Lady Doc wiggled her toes deep inside her boots and asked, "Do you have shoes?"

"Never. Always needed to walk in my own feet."

Inside her own hiking boots the Lady Doc was protecting a recent pedicure that included a red, white, and blue eagle on her carefully-trimmed big toenails.

"Please bring me a basin of water," she asked a runner. "And the pink towel that is hanging over the back seat in our bus."

Moments later the Lady Army Doc knelt before Maria Elena Gonzalez de Guzman, with a red plastic basin of miraculously warmish water between her knees, and a bright pink towel safely draped over her left shoulder.

The right foot came first, accumulated dust turning the water into a mud puddle. The Lady Doc rubbed softly, pretending the foot belonged to her own mother, the woman who had hoped her daughter would grow up to be a missionary doctor.

A hand, powerful from picking generations of raspberries, reached out and rested on the Lady Doc's shoulder. Their eyes touched, igniting a fire of honor between them, then leaking love into rivers that merged into an unstoppable torrent.

When both feet were washed and the tears quenched, the sisters stood together.

One, a slim young Army Doc. The other, a bent memory of the wife who had once run through the mountain fields. They stood, linked together with something greater than either could describe.

Later, carrying their new treasures of vitamins and Tylenol, the couple walked across the road and up the mud steps toward their raspberry field and their mud home. Her feet, covered with fresh dust, were clean.

Dick Duerksen, from northern California, shares this touching encounter he witnessed in Ecuador. All rights reserved © 2013 VisitInSpire.org. Click here for content usage information.