Last time I left off as we sat in a full dining room at the sanitarium, where, hopefully, we had broken through the hurtful theology of our time, giving these people a chance to heal on the inside. And while the moment lasted a useful amount of time, it was soon enough broken by Dora, who excused herself for a doctor’s appointment. Esther excused herself as well and drove her mom.
Again we sat silently, thinking now about Dora, and how little time she had left. She’d probably be hospitalized within a week or two.
Then one of them turned to me and asked, “What are we going to do without Dora?”
“You’re going to remember the things she did,” I said. “You’ll learn from them and then do better than she did.”
I could see that this statement didn’t meet with universal approval. Clearly, some of them – especially the ones who lauded Dora… who had taken refuge under her leadership – didn’t want the responsibility of exceeding her.
“That may take you some time,” I added. “That’s the purpose of someone like Dora, not to hit a high mark that won’t be exceeded but to help people learn to walk the path she paved and then to go farther than she did. Your excellence is her legacy.”
I looked around the table to see gently nodding heads… but not all of them. And the two people who obviously didn’t agree were Anthony and Bertrice – the same two who didn’t approve of my previous statement.
This meant trouble.
I’ve seen this happen before, and I knew what was about to hit me… about to hit the people of the sanitarium: a psychological and philosophical war. We had reached what Jesus called a “stone of stumbling” – where the authentic contents of hearts would be revealed, dividing the healthy from the unhealthy.
And I’ve never seen one of these moments that didn’t turn ugly.
Anthony – an old man with a deformed arm and hand – looked insulted and angry, though he said nothing. Bertrice, however (60ish, lame and very homely), had plenty to say.
“Spoken just like someone who was born pretty!” she nearly spat out at me. “You have no concept of what it is to live in our condition, and yet you come in here and pretend you’re some kind of holy guide.”
I thought briefly about defending myself but realized it was better for them to deal with this themselves. The battle had been engaged and I was an outsider.
Sophie spoke up from her wheelchair: “We invited him here, Bertrice, and we asked him questions. He did nothing more than answer them.”
I cracked a quarter smile at her in thanks.
“That doesn’t matter anyway,” Bertrice fired back. “I’m not going to be ordered around by pretty people again, and that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Esther – a pretty person – will take over Dora’s position, and we’ll be back under their thumb.”
“That’s unfair, Bertrice. Esther has been among us all her life.”
“And tell me she won’t take Dora’s spot! You know she will!”
“I don’t know that she will,” answered Stanley, one of the first two men I met at the sanitarium. “But so what if she does? If she can do the job best, why not?”
“Tell me she’s not pretty,” Bertrice challenged. “And now she has a pretty boyfriend… and she’ll have pretty children. She’s not one of us, no matter what you say.”
At that, the room degenerated into chaos. Some defended Esther and others agreed with Bertrice, at least in part. I could see what was happening: They were sorting themselves.
And then Bertrice stormed from the room, followed by Anthony. A moment later we heard pounding from down the hall, where her room was. Bertrice had a hammer, a nail, and the plaque that Esther showed me on my first visit. She turned to see several of us watching as she hung the plaque on her door. Then she glared at me and read parts of the plaque:
Go away. We’re not pretty like you and we never will be. We are the rejects of the world, and it’s your obligation to leave us alone. Don’t try to make yourself feel good by soothing us.
Then she went into her room and closed the door with emphasis. I walked slowly toward the front door.
Several of them, led by Stanley and Sophie, followed me and stopped next to the door.
“What’s going on?” they both asked, surrounded by several others.
I really didn’t know what to answer, so I hung my head, tried to calm my own feelings, and to love them.
“They’re dividing your group,” I answered, “for the sake of their personal issues. They’ll make you choose sides. I’m sorry.”
With that I tried to comfort them as best I could for another minute and then left.
This is a situation they’ll have to face themselves. I’ll help with the aftermath as best I can, but the battle is theirs.