Michael Harding: When I came through the operation, people said I was lucky.  That's not how I saw it

Michael Harding: When I came through the operation, people said I was lucky. That’s not how I saw it

Last year I was in Beaumont recovering from surgery. I was lying in bed with 30 staples along my spine. And I was so proud of them that I took a photograph using a mirror in the hospital bathroom. If the disease arose as a topic of conversation in the future, I would have a picture to impress my listeners with.

The custom of waving scars at a dinner table was widespread in my childhood Cavan. I often saw men open their shirts to show the white line on the knife along the chest after a heart operation, as if they were showing medals from all over Ireland. My little staples were not that dramatic. They looked more like a zipper or sleepers for a small train.

I moped around the garden, lingered in the bedroom or lay on the couch when a stream of Netflix movies overwhelmed my calm

But I had at least some colorful details about the operation to spice up each story. Someone, for example, attached cranial capsules to my spine with a strip of tape before the operation. They x-rayed me with the capsules in place so that the doctors would have an exact map of my spine to work with when they cut the meat.

When I came out of the hospital, I was not in the mood for visitors. I moped around the garden, lingered in the bedroom, or lay on the couch when a stream of Netflix movies overwhelmed my calm. And when I tried to get up from the couch, it was almost impossible.

That was when I remembered the cane.

It was in my office for several years. The shaft was made of black thorn and the handle was made of a goat’s jawbone. It was a gift, and I used it once in a theatrical performance, where I played an old man who tells a tragic story; the stick gave me a kind of authenticity on stage that the drama required.

But I never used it in real life. It was a theater prop. And it ended up hanging on the wall right next to the bookshelf, where I keep my religious icons. And sometimes it also got the air of a sacred object.

Walking sticks demanded my attention as a child. My grandmother had one. And a blind man who lived next door to her on Bridge Street had another. He sat in the sun with a handkerchief on his bald head and his knuckles wrapped around the top of his cane. I actually can not remember any old people who did not have sticks at that time. It’s amazing how hip replacement can change the world.

There was no luck with the doctors and nurses in Beaumont; their healing power was transmitted to me through touch and feeling

As a child, I was taken to Knock on several occasions, and sometimes to sacred wells. As I meandered through the crowds, I could not avoid the amount of rough walking aids and crutches that hung from ledges or attached to various walls – free-floating sticks and crutches that proclaimed that some miracle had happened there. Some wonderful cure had been obtained at the gable of that particular church or this special well.

I imagined that the affected pilgrims were healed so dramatically that they just threw the crutches away from them. But I would have been terrified of touching a crutch or prosthesis. I had a vague idea that the pilgrim’s illness could remain in the crutch after the pilgrim had been healed. The cane or the walking aid embodied pain, and if I dared to touch it, some mysterious disease could flow down into the shaft, into my body; such was my limited grasp of science.

But that’s how fear and reverence work. I had no language to contain the reality of suffering; so I could only construct meaning from symbols. Illness was about touch and feeling and objects that carried terrible magic; like wizards’ wands or the white-haired bishop’s villains or the blind man’s cane that used it to beat the time when he was juggling a jig.

When I came through the operation, people said I was lucky. But that’s not how I saw it. There was no luck with the doctors and nurses in Beaumont; their healing power was transmitted to me through touch and feeling. And afterwards the stick became a symbol of that grace. I did not feel happy, but grateful.

After a while I could get up from the sofa like a lark from his cozy nest, and the stick returned to the wall next to the bookshelf with sacred objects. Because it was also a symbol. A magic wand of invisible healing. An icon of the wound where the light came in.

#Michael #Harding #operation #people #lucky

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