After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”
— Genesis 32:23-28
Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.
“Is that you Charlie?” The overweight woman in the floral bathing suit paddled toward me in the pool. I averted my eyes and continued my lap swimming, but she persisted and pursued me across the pool. When she got closer she realized that I was not Charlie, but a spark of recognition remained, “Are you the man that is a little bit lame?”
How do you answer a question like that? My answer puzzled even me, “I suppose.” I wanted a W.C. Field’s comeback similar to the one he gave when a woman approached him in disgust, “You sir, are drunk!” In his trademark voice he replied, “In the morning madam, I will be sober and you will still be ugly.” I should have at least said, “Yes, I am a little bit lame and you are a little bit stupid. Everyone has a cross to bear.”
Lame. Do people use the word “lame” any more? When I think of lame, I think of Amahl and the Night Visitors. I think of a crude wooden crutch or beggars in India. The word lame slipped into youth culture briefly, as in, “My math teacher is really lame.” I do not think that I would have felt better if the woman had said, “Are you physically handicapped?” or even worse, “Are you physically challenged?”
After the swimming pool incident I’ve had to people ask me somewhat directly why I walk with a limp. Their first guess is always polio. Depending on whether I like the person or not I will give them a more detailed description as to the source of my limp. If I do not like them I will respond, “Yeah, polio.”
My third grade teacher was Mrs. Wilson. It was the year I was in a body cast and attended Riveria Elementary School in a wheelchair. It had a huge wicker back, circa 1890s, and oak leg supports. Its wheels were hard rubber. I remember being wheeled into the nurses’ office to pee in a milk carton and Earl Davis teaching me to draw dinosaurs at the blackboard during recess. I remember fire drills and remaining in the room while the other students practiced safe and orderly escape routes. I remember falling in love with Debbie Botting and folding our papers in vertical quarters to do math problems.
Each morning my father would drive me to school and we would meet Hosea at the outside entrance to the school. Hosea was a huge black man. He preferred to be called “Hosie.” He would lift me out of the car and carry me up three flights of stairs. I don’t remember him speaking. I do, however, remember having a sense of security in his arms. And when he smiled it revealed one gold tooth.
My favorite Bible story is the story Jacob. It is the story of two brothers at war: Jacob, a conniving mama’s boy and his smelly brother Esau. The story takes Jacob on a circuitous route to the bank of a river. On the other shore awaits Jacob’s brother, a force to be reckoned with. After sending his family across the river, surely his brother would not hurt a family man. At one climactic moment in the story Jacob is literally wrestling with God, demanding his blessing. At first it is odd, because he had already tricked the blessing out of his blind and aged father, Isaac. But now he wants the authentic blessing of God. God obliges, but not until he has thrown Jacob’s hip out of joint. (This next part is not in the Bible, directly.) I picture Jacob writhing in pain upon the ground with tears streaming down his face. Tears of true pain mingled with tears of true joy: the joy of having encountered God face to face. The shadowy figure with whom he had been wrestling, bends down and lifts Jacob into his arms to carry him across the river.
Jacob is laid gently on the shore. And as the glossy black behemoth of a figure tosses his head and smiles, a gold tooth glints in the sunrise.
My father wore a hearing aid. I have a formal picture of my father and mother shortly after their marriage. You can see the cord to the hearing aid in that picture. I often wondered why he didn’t take it off, at least for the picture.
My recollection of that hearing aid is that the receiver was held in a modified child’s sock that hung around his neck. The receiver was the size of a small transistor radio. The connecting cord was black and obvious, difficult to hide. The earpiece was a molded piece of plastic that rested inside the ear and was capped with an ivory piece of plastic.
My father’s hearing aid had an annoying squeal when he was adjusting the volume. I know for a fact that if the conversation were boring him at any given moment he would turn his hearing aid down and smile and nod.
When he went into the hospital after being diagnosed with acute leukemia the batteries on his hearing aid went dead. The timing could not have been worse. The hearing aid was by that point an antique and batteries for it were not readily available. A hospital social worker suggested that he be fit for a modern hearing aid, one that was virtually invisible and because of improved technology, it would actually allow him to hear.
You would have thought the social worker had suggested castration or amputation. “Just get my damn batteries.” His new-found love of swearing had grown.
Once when I was being fitted for a leg brace, the doctor commented on how strong I would need to wear the brace. At the time I assumed he meant physically strong. My father turned to me and said, “David, I have worn this hearing aid all of my life. I wear it like a badge of honor.”
The problem with being a martyr at fourteen is that by age forty-five it has grown thin.