I’ve been thinking a lot about feet since I’ve been in India. It’s an odd thing to ponder over, I know, but in many ways, feet have played a very consistent part of my experience both here in India and throughout my cancer journey.
Foot rubs from Lindsey were often the only thing that eased my aching muscles, releasing tensions that accumulated with every doctor’s appointment. I remember going out to Harper’s Ferry on a trip I had planned for Tim and I before my second mastectomy and doing a short hike on the Appalachian Trail. I had managed not to lose any of my toenails during chemo, a very common side affect, and somehow, four months after I finished treatment, I lost three or four of them in the span of an hour. I immediately turned into a heaving, sobbing mess, feeling like even when I was done, cancer loomed over me like a black shadow. I remember teasing my grandmother about her “razor” feet; sending her shuffling over the carpet anytime an earring was lost or a ring misplaced. She was always so proud of her feet, beautiful and soft and the most sensitive part of her body, even after 80 plus years of use.
At Mother Teresa’s, feet have also taken a significant presence, humbling me just as they did back on the trail in September. We aren’t allowed to take photographs while we’re inside, but I think if I could, I would take pictures of the women’s feet. It’s like you can read a lifetime of experience in every toe. Journeys taken, physically and otherwise, stories that are now trapped behind glistening eyes and aging minds. In India, people touch the feet of elders as a sign of respect, and the respect of elders is everything. You would rather be an hour late for a job interview than interrupt an elder that was taking their time in relaying a story. So it seemed fitting on our second day, we did an activity that involved feet. Because whether you are a 30-something woman in the United States or an 80-something one in India, everyone loves a good foot rub.
Previous volunteers have brought nail polish and lotion for the women at Mother Teresa’s, and it’s an activity they have become quite fond of. The women, no matter their mental presence, are very familiar—and comfortable—with plopping their feet right in your lap for a good pedicure. Some may just have one foot for you to tend to, or their foot may be shaking fiercely the entire time you polish, but some things are universal, and the power of touch is one of them.
The next day after our first morning of pedicure, when we walked in Mother Teresa’s and were greeting everyone good morning, one woman grabbed my hand and gestured that she’d like another foot rub. So I grabbed some of our lotion, pulled up a chair and began to rub.
It may sound strange but in the 30 minutes or so that I spent with this woman, language barriers making silence the most natural working environment, I was truly humbled. That I get to be here. Of the seven billion people alive at any given moment on the planet, 1.3 of them in India, that fate had brought us together, if only momentarily, so that I was the one who got to rub her feet. I began to think of all the places, all the circumstances, the feet propped in my lap had carried this woman. Did she have a daughter or son that lived somewhere else that frequented her heart? Did they ever rub her feet? What heartbreak and loss were buried behind her deep brown glittering eyes? Did her love return to her in her dreams as it often did mine? Did she have “cancers” of her own, toxic experiences that shook her and woke her and broke her and threw her in the polar opposite direction she thought was best for her?
Then I thought of my own feet, and what they have carried me through. I’ve been knocked flat off them. Many times, I’ve been convinced that they had reached their absolute end. But I’ve always managed to get back on them, back on my feet as the saying goes—after physical hardship, emotional heartbreak, after my spirit and soul has been thoroughly broken and left out to dry. And I realize that whenever I’ve found myself in these situations, where getting back on my feet seems like the least viable option, someone or something comes along. Someone or something that pauses me in my downward spiral, stops me from sinking further, and gives me a little foot rub. A little healing balm that soothes my soles—and my soul—and helps me to stand back up.
And I suddenly feel ferociously proud of these feet. Of the ones in my lap and the ones on my body. For their strength and their resilience and for the blessing that for this short moment in time, they are resting on the warm concrete, side by side.