A Poolside Encounter
by Mike Carman
38 years. That’s a long time to be sick. And with the passing of each torturous year, the prospect of getting better became that much more unlikely. And so he laid there, barely able to move his wretched and racked body, dependent upon others to meet his meager daily needs.
But there was one need that was never met. This man kept company with other invalids and cripples encamped around a pool of water that was said to have restorative healing powers. The story was that at random times, the water would begin to roil, stirred up (it was said) by an angel. At the precise moment of agitation, anyone who could get into the water would find healing. But there was a catch- you had to be the first one in. Not second or third. The first. The quickest. The closest. The most physical. The one who wanted it more than all the others.
You can believe that those around that pool lay as close as they could, fearing to vacate their spot, even for a moment, lest it become filled before they could return. Bodies crowded together, the more physically able pushing those who had less strength into the background. To a position where they could only watch another lucky person find the wholeness for which they all longed.
One day a teacher wandered into this pitiful mass of humanity, lovingly gazing upon their vacant stares and measuring their discouraged hearts. His eyes fell upon this one who had been a poolside resident for perhaps almost as long as his 38 years of calamity. Looking intently at the man, the teacher asked him something that must have sounded nonsensical, “Do you want to get well?”
“Do I WANT to get well?! What kind of question is that?” the man must have thought, as he felt this stranger’s eyes piercing his own soul. “Does he know where he is? Doesn’t he know that I’m here because I’m trying to get well? Is he questioning my sincerity?” But there was something about the manner, the tone of voice, the lack of judgment displayed even as he asked. Do you want to get well?
The man’s response was telling. “Sir, I don’t have anyone to help me when the water moves. It’s every man for himself and I have no one to lift me up. I try on my own but I can’t get there. I’m never fast enough. Never good enough. Never strong enough. I’m all alone.”
Alone. Isolated. Friendless. There is no greater sorrow or destruction in life than lack of relationship. This broken man lay at the source of his healing for years but never experienced it, as close as it was. Because he was alone. Because there was a brokenness in his personal relationships- that safety net of people who provide love and support in times of crisis- that resulted in him having no one to lift, to encourage, to assist him in his need. It doesn’t matter how or why he was alone. It only mattered that he was. And because he was, he would never know the healing that existed just beyond arm’s reach.
The teacher looked past the man’s eyes, into his heart. “Get up!” he ordered the invalid. ‘Grab your mat and walk out of here!” “Get up? I haven’t gotten up for almost 40 years!” It must have flashed through his mind. But the teacher was so insistent, so definite, so caring, that he did what he had not done since he could remember. He struggled to stand! And as he did, he sensed something tangible coarse through his once-limp limbs, so he obediently grabbed his mat, placed one foot warily in front of the other…and walked! He actually walked! In that instant, a man whose existence had long since ceased- no future, no hope, no friends, no blessing from God- was suddenly catapulted back into the very life that had eluded him for so long. The man with no one to help him found the one who would. And one man’s care rekindled hope in a life whose flame had all but been extinguished.
The power of relationship changes lives, reignites hope, lifts a human soul. Too many today are broken and isolated like this man. Some are easily seen. They huddle under overpasses. Or in shelters. They sleep on bus benches. Or in parks. They carve out an existence in their vehicles. Alone. Or with their families.
It could be that person we repeatedly pass on the sidewalk when we get our cups of coffee. The one with whom we avoid eye contact because we’re afraid we’ll be hit up for money. That homeless person holding a sign on the offramp who used to look longingly at us, but now just stares vacantly, because there is no longer any expectation.
Others may be tougher to recognize. They move within cultural parameters in assumed health. But though they are surrounded by many, they are alone. They hurt but have few, if any, with whom they share their pain. They exist in exile alongside other hurting people, each desiring to bathe in a healing elixir of hope and restoration, but somehow unable to access the experience.
It may be a family member who has withdrawn. Or someone in our network of friends who cries out for affirmation. Perhaps it’s a neighbor, the sour man next door or the woman who never greets us when we wave. Maybe it’s that lonely widow or divorcee. The single parent who looks weighed down. The young person with an attitude. Or a co-worker who always seems burdened or troubled.
What part can we play in their healing? For whom will we be that spark that might revive hope and healing? It’s not just about giving money or a meal or a bag of groceries. It’s more than smiling or greeting those we pass. It’s about giving time. Attention. Friendship at some level. It’s about caring for someone that others may have long since passed by and moved on from. It’s about the investment of our most valuable commodity…ourselves. For only when we choose to invest ourselves in the lives of those near us who still sit by that healing pool will they gain the strength and power to move from the edge into the waters of new hope and life.
Spend unrushed time at that pool where people hurt and suffer. Sit with them. Get to know them. Invest in them. Discover their pain…and how we can best come alongside them. It’s in that space that we may discover the role we play in their miracle of healing.
Because no one should have to find healing alone.