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Good Letters

13430047155_25a7d296d1_zAt five a.m. this morning, my husband woke me while taking money from my wallet to buy donuts for himself and our fourth child who was to accompany him to the lumberyard. He was buying wood to build a picnic table and a couple of porch swings.

My husband shouldn’t be driving a car. He shouldn’t be making things with wood yet. He had shoulder surgery several weeks ago, and at this point, his arm should be immobilized ninety percent of the time. He’s on short-term disability, home from work for an entire month, and he’s bored silly, so immobilization couldn’t last. It barely lasted a week.

Now he’s making furniture and renovating the storm windows. If he gets on a ladder, I’ll scream. And that should stop him. I think it really will.

It’s been interesting having him home all day. For the first week I gave him sponge baths, made him eggs, brought him entertainments, and took leisurely walks with him in the park. It was heaven. I thought I might amputate his legs, and keep him here with me all the time as my special patient. How delightful it was to serve, to experience his gratitude and dependency.

The second week, it seemed that he was willing to exert himself selectively. He was still too sore to do tedious tasks, but somehow he rallied for the interesting ones. I watched as he exhibited competency on the things I kind of enjoyed doing, like making the eggs. It seemed he was branching into my department of service, but leaving the position unfilled when it came time to throw away his Coke cans.

By the third week, he’d started asking for nooners.

“I don’t think you’re sick anymore,” I said.

He answered with a couple bars of the Marvin Gaye song, “Sexual Healing,” which made me think that a few light projects around the house might not be a bad idea.

And now, we are almost back to normal, the temporary politenesses have dissipated. I keep imagining that there are easier ways to love and be loved, and so my attentions have returned to the children, who are helpless and needy, and who have begun their marathon of checkups that attend the imminent return to school.

I miss my husband and those languorous post-op days when the kids were at my parents’ house and it was just him and me, watching movies, talking, and making a good recovery.

I wouldn’t really amputate his legs to keep him home with me, but there’s something so pleasing about unlimited, unstructured time together. There was of course also something that made us both anxious. The return to action and doing things was inevitable, not only because things just needed to be done, but because in some way, too much time together is terrifying.

In a recent interview in America Magazine, Jean Vanier, founder of L’Arche, said:

Love is to reveal to someone: “you are beautiful and you have value.” That is the secret of love. It’s not primarily to do things for people, because then we find our glory in doing things. The secret of love is to reveal to someone that “you are precious,” that “you are beautiful.

It’s so much easier for me to love the helpless than it is to love the strong. As long as there’s a meal to cook and laundry to wash, I’m doing my ever-loving duty.

Where there’s strength, however, there’s no need for my action. Giving my husband complete attention as his strength returned required a focus, inactivity, and self-abnegation that bore too much resemblance to a turnip to be very comfortable.

I can’t help thinking of Jesus letting his body be destroyed so he could take up residence in a piece of bread. I used to receive the Eucharist thinking I’d take it out to the unchurched masses, donating my own strength in heroic acts of evangelization, and thus would Christ’s mission on earth be fulfilled.

The more I discover how I want to be loved, however, it seems more likely that Christ becomes present in a piece of bread—flesh, spirit, wholly present—in order to say, Look, I’m the source of all strength, so technically, I don’t need you. Even so, I love you, and I’m not going anywhere. I’ve got no arms, no legs. I’m just here to be unadulterated, unconditional Presence to you.

There’s a dark corner of my heart that’s always secretly suspected that crucifixion isn’t that big of a deal. We all die in the end, and so many apostles and martyrs underwent equally gruesome deaths.

I could even make a pretty good case that I have undergone, and continue to undergo crucifixion for my own family. Do I not nail my foot to the gas pedal and my hands to the steering wheel every night driving my kids to their various activities out of love? Have I not been wrenched from the inside out with each pregnancy and birth, with each small death I undergo in a day trying to live with these people who wake me up at five a.m. to steal my cash and do unreasonable things with it?

The truly miraculous thing is this host. Who can become food? Who can let themselves be consumed again and again? Human nature revolts at the thought—personality expunged, strength yielded, body wasted—for the sole purpose of nourishing someone else.

The great terror of spending too much time in this unmitigated presence is that eventually I might consume and be consumed by it, that the two might become one. Oh Lord, it makes me want to run for my life.

The Image archive is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Written by: Elizabeth Duffy

Elizabeth Duffy writes at Patheos: Elizabeth Duffy: Perspectives on Catholic Life, Family, and Culture and at She is a contributor to Living Faith/ Daily Catholic Devotions, and has work published or forthcoming from OSV, On Faith, The Catholic Educator, and Image.


  1. Dede on September 19, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    “There’s a dark corner of my heart that’s always secretly suspected that crucifixion isn’t that big of a deal. We all die in the end, and so many apostles and martyrs underwent equally gruesome deaths.”

    I enjoyed the post but you lost me here. We know nothing of the magnitude of suffering endured by Jesus in the crucifixion. It is a far cry from having to carpool kids, endure childbirth, or contribute one’s hard earned cash. It’s a dark corner of the heart indeed that can entertain the notion that “crucifixion isn’t that big of a deal. ” Just couldn’t be silent on this.

  2. Briana Meade on November 24, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Elizabeth, I can’t believe I just found your writing. I am devouring it, page by page. Thank you for these erudite and generous insights! I’m reading each of your pieces one by one.

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