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Niedner: Healing is a gift to give again

Frederick Niedner

Frederick Niedner

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Updated: June 22, 2012 7:28PM



Few things astound me more than the capacity of living things to heal. Almost as astonishing, of course, is the number and variety of wounds that make healing necessary. Each of our lives begins with a cutting loose that requires healing and leaves an obvious scar. Although we seldom explain how we came to have a navel, every other scar prompts a story, and some of our tales have grown into epics.

The oak tree in my front yard can’t tell its story, but it has one, and I can see the prompt for it in a faint line that looks like a question mark drawn upon its bark. Years ago, in the month he acquired a driver’s license, a young fellow drove through our neighborhood on a slick, snowy day and that oak tree inexplicably jumped out and wrecked the lad’s pride and joy, a Jeep he’d bought with his own money. The vehicle didn’t heal, but thankfully the young man did. Eventually, so did the tree.

Ranchers tell how sometimes young trees they’ve cut down, stripped and stuck in the ground as fence posts sprout new growth, as the post strains to become a tree again with boughs enough to shelter birds or give shade to a young cowgirl and her beloved.

I have witnessed many sorts of healing at the remote retreat center in the Cascade Mountains where I frequently volunteer in the summer. Indeed, people come to such a place in search of healing even if they don’t call it that. Most arrive in a familiar stupor, bludgeoned by the incessant, shameless character assassination we call politics, or merely the dripping, water-torture quality of a single day’s quota of television commercials. Escape from the onslaught of such rhetoric soon enough restores one’s spirit.

Some folks, human equivalents of the trees ranchers have cut down and made into fencing, come for more profound kinds of healing. Many do heal, although most will never lose completely the scars from whatever chainsaw felled them.

Some years ago in this setting, I observed the same man working each day at replacing the flashing around a large chimney atop the building that houses the kitchen and dining hall. Eventually I found myself seated with this man at a community meal and asked if he was a sheet-metal worker, roofer or perhaps a chimney sweep hired for that project.

None of the above, his story revealed. Instead, he was a neurosurgeon who had nearly died in an accident that left him unconscious for several weeks. Later he had undergone months of rehabilitation and physical therapy to recover muscle tone, balance and the ability to walk. Now, almost completely healed, he needed an activity that would help him recover the fine motor skills that would allow him to trust his hands again. Only then, he knew, could he return to the work of cutting into people’s skulls, brains and spinal columns in hopes that they might heal.

I wonder what that doctor’s patients would think, having experienced something like a miracle that gave them their lives back thanks in part to the surgeon’s skills, if they knew he had practiced for their surgery with tin shears on a kitchen roof up in the mountains.

If fortunate, they might get wind of the story, or if wise, they may intuit it. The whole point of being healed is to have once again the capacity to give or to find for someone else the balm or encouragement that will help work their healing.

Old trees with a host of scars provide the most generous shade.

Frederick Niedner is a professor of theology at
Valparaiso University.



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