Still Life with Aromatic Ointment. October, 2011.
The Things Done for Love
All my life I've used my bare hands to apply mentholated ointment, because that's how my mom applied it when I was sick as a little girl. Recently I've had bronchitis and the ointment has been my friend.
Vicks sorely strained our friendship one evening. I'd rubbed on the ointment and washed my hands furiously with hot water and soap, determined to obliterate any trace of the sticky, smelly stuff. Twenty minutes later, I rubbed my eyes and was rewarded with intense burning: I'd gotten a bit of VapoRub in my eye.
I do lots of things the way my mother did them. I've never tried a new recipe for meat loaf or potato salad; I prepare those foods the way she did, and I'm happy. Like her, I prefer tinsel to garland on my Christmas tree.
But the Burning Eye Incident led me, the next morning, to improve upon the method of delivery for aromatic rubs. Determined to leave not a speck behind on my fingers, I tore off a sheet of wax paper, wadded it up, and used it as a mop to apply the gooey stuff to my chest and throat.
My new method worked. I washed my hands when I was done, and when I dried them they were perfectly clean.
Pleased with my success, I posted a status update on Facebook sharing my secret. My friends comments were eye-opening. It seems everyone but me had long since conquered this challenge. One uses tissue. Another uses a wash cloth. Q-tips and cotton balls have their adherents, too, apparently.
Being confined to the couch provided me with lots of time to consider things. That day, I was wondering: Mom was a smart, smart woman. Why on earth did she always use her bare hand to rub that stuff on me when I was sick?
I closed my eyes and pictured my childhood bedroom with bunk beds, Mom pushing aside a stuffed menagerie to sit on pink chenille, leaning in, close over me, with the little blue pot of Vicks in her hand. I remembered how it had been, all those years ago. I could almost feel her massaging the ointment into my fevered skin.
Even the memory of her touch soothed me.
Then I understood.
Maybe, when Mom put the rub on her own skin, she did use a tissue or a cotton ball to apply it. But when her little girl was ill, she accepted the prospect of sticky, vile-smelling residue haunting her hands, because she knew that her hand on my skin would comfort me as no wad of Kleenex ever could.
That's sacrificial love. And it can be dirty, dirty work.
4 Surely our griefs He Himself bore, And our sorrows He carried; Yet we ourselves esteemed Him stricken, Smitten of God, and afflicted. 5 But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.
Isaiah 53:4-5 (NASB)