On the Washing of Feet
“Mandatum novum do vobis ut diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos”- John 13:34
For a person who is not particularly spiritual, I realize that a quote out of the Bible is an odd way of starting out an introduction, but every time I have made the attempt to put words down that lend credence to what I need to say, I come back to this simple command.
Do you know the story?
May I tell it to you in as secular manner as possible?
I swear I will tell you what it means and why it’s so important, in a few short paragraphs…
One day, a great teacher gathered together his disciples for a meal. He had felt a deep premonition that he would soon pass away from mortal life, and knew there was still more that needed to be done. The food was prepared, the table set, and the party had gathered around to eat. Unexpectedly, the guest of honor stood, removed his clothing, tied a simple towel around his waist, and filled a basin. He then took this basin around the room, from man to man, knelt down, and washed the feet of his students.
Some protested, because why would the leader among them subjugate himself like this? Should not the students wash the teacher’s feet, and not the other way around? These men had just been arguing over which of them was the most holy and yet, the highest of them was showing the most humility. What a sight!
Interesting that none of those gathered looked to his left or his right and offered to bear some of the burden, isn’t it? No one made the decision to jump in and perform an act of service to his equal—even when one man was bestowing service to the many. No follower asked to assist in the demonstration; each follower ultimately watched, and waited for his own turn—even though there was clearly a moral dilemma in their hearts as this was taking place. I believe we refer to this as the as the “bystander effect,” today.
When the ritual was completed and the teacher had finished washing and drying all of those feet, he dressed again, and sat back down at the table. He said they should all go live by the example that had just been set. Later, he predicted his betrayal and death and said to his friends, “A new command I give to you: Love one another.” That is the meaning of the Latin, above.
This is a valuable lesson in humanity, with the bulk of religious connotations removed. Love one another. Take and show care to one another. Time is short and fleeting, so perform humble acts of service about it, often. Allow others to bestow acts of service and love on you, too. Look to your left, and to your right, and notice the people around you. Realize that we are all equally human, imperfect, and in need of kindness.
Living is sometimes difficult and laborious. It can be exhausting, isolating, and tragic. It can be unfair and unpredictable. It’s also precious, beautiful, and delicate. Life is all we really have, for the short time we have it. One of the greatest honors and privileges, for me, is being trusted to offer my hands and brain when called—and to lend some light where it is needed.
There is so much genuine humanity to be seen in chronic illness, especially in kidney disease. So much reality, resilience, true and genuine appreciation for every day. It changes you, seeing people trying their best to keep living, wanting more life, a better life, opportunities, more hope. Life is a thing worth fighting for daily when necessary. Love is another.
So, I guess this is where I should introduce myself. Hello. I’m Jenn, and I am a nurse from New York. Home dialysis is what I am most passionate about. I joined the MEI team recently as Program Director, so I can help make the lives of people with chronic illness better, in as big of a way as possible. I believe that acts of love and service are “good for goodness’ sake,” and that kindness is a circle that just keeps going—one we should all actively contribute to more often.
There are dozens of topics I could have chosen to write about first, but like I said, I could not stop thinking about the metaphor of the feet washing and how it applies to the roles we all play in this world we share. Aspire to be humble washer of feet, no matter which side of the stethoscope you’re on. Everyone else is on a journey, too. Much love.