“Leprosy might begin with the loss of all sensation in some part of the body; the nerve trunks are affected; the muscles waste away; the tendons contract until the hands are like claws. There follows ulceration of the hands and feet. Then comes the progressive loss of fingers and toes, until in the end a whole hand or a whole foot may drop off. The duration of that kind of leprosy is anything from twenty to thirty years. It is a kind of terrible progressive death in which the sufferer dies by inches.”
Already, the light comes earlier. This morning, she sits at the table and watches the sparrows move like shadows through the quick disappearing dim. Five geese fly over the house—honking—their reflections glisten in the sky of the glass table before her, all cervical spine and perfect formation. The candle flickers and so does her mind, unable to stay right here in this moment.
Lately, she’s been feeling out of place. It’s an unsettled feeling, like she’s sixteen again—fast beating heart and breathless—only not so brave, because there is so much more to lose now.
In her reading today she read about leprosy. It was the most terrible of all diseases, the author says.
That’s how she’s been feeling lately, like she’s dying by inches.
She’s been watching her young son move closer to love and the confidence with which he navigates this strange land has silenced her—the sweetness and trust he carries into the new so humbling, making her tremble in shame at the ways she has feared giving herself.
She knows what holds her back and fear is the disease that causes the slow dying. Her heart longs to run out to meet this new way, to chase after joy with wild abandon; but it feels too risky, the earth beneath her shifting so.
In Biblical times, when a leper was given his fateful diagnoses, it was as good as a death sentence. He was banished from human contact, condemned to live outside the city. She even read that in the middle ages, when a person contracted leprosy, the priest would read the burial service over the sufferer before banishment.
Fear is the leprosy of the heart and it feels like hers might turn to stone and drop out of her body and then where would she be? A walking, breathing dead person. Who wants to touch a diseased one, who can see past the ulcerated fears into the yearning? Who has the courage that she does not?
She is learning that there is only One.