I hate feet. Don’t ask me why, because I won’t be able to fully explain why I have always hated feet. The only way I like feet is when they are covered in socks and close-toed shoes.
For as long as I can remember, I have always hated feet.
So, imagine my dismay in the 6th grade, when my teacher at the private Catholic school I attended announced she was going to wash the students’ feet. Now that I am older, I realize she was probably attempting to impart the lessons of the Last Supper on our class. But, at the time, the entire object of the lesson escaped me.
Our teacher announced, “tomorrow, we are all going to sit in a circle. You will be asked to remove one shoe and sock from a foot, and I will take my pitcher and bowl, and a washcloth, and wash the one foot, the way Jesus did with his disciples.”
I raised my hand and asked if I could be excused from the activity. I was informed everyone would be participating. When I expressed discomfort with the idea, my feelings went unacknowledged and I was essentially told to suck it up and deal with it.
So, I went home in tears, dreading the following day at school. At dinner, I shared my concerns with my family, and my parents informed me they would back up whatever decision I made – whether it was to allow my teacher to wash my foot, or refuse to participate.
The next day, we all entered the classroom and started our lessons. I kept an eye on the clock, dreading what was coming during our religion period. Sure enough, when religion class rolled around, we were all assembled into the circle. It was the moment of truth as the teacher instructed everyone remove their sock and shoe. She probably expected compliance from me because I had willingly gone to sit in the circle of chairs. I started to remove my shoe, and as I did so, I got extremely uncomfortable – I can distinctly recall the knot in the pit of my stomach, and what I now recognize to be classic symptoms of a panic attack (sweaty palms, shortness of breath, nausea). I decided to sit out this activity, but was willing to stay in the circle and watch and learn from her lesson – I just did not want to participate.
The teacher and I got into a power struggle before she began washing anyone’s foot. I pointed out to her that, in Jesus’ time, it was customary to wash people’s feet before eating because they wore sandals and walked everywhere. But, since we were in the 90’s, that was no longer the case!
Looking back, I can completely understand why she kicked a 6th grader (ahem, me) out of her classroom, when said student looked her squarely in the eye and reasoned, perhaps defiantly, “well, are you Jesus? Because if you are not Jesus, you are not touching my foot!” I still use that tone of voice, although very occasionally.
My parents supported me through the entire ordeal, and quickly reminded the principal (who was called in to referee the situation) that we had just been taught as students to “just say ‘no'” in our D.A.R.E program, and if we weren’t comfortable, that it was okay to “say no.” I think I got to go home the rest of the day after everything was said and done. And, yes, I may have thought as a 6th grader that there was a distinctive similarity between drugs/alcohol and feet.
And, while I have become accustomed to seeing feet – I like to say God’s way of “curing” me of my foot aversion was to send me to Hawaii, where flip-flops are worn 350 days out of the year – I have not completely reconciled my feelings as they pertain to feet. One of Soldier Boy’s ways of getting me to scale the walls is to take his sock off and just come within a foot (no pun intended) of my arm , or my leg, or my face with his bare foot. It sends me running… or, it may make me cry… either response is typical.
In my defense, though, I have taught myself to enjoy pedicures – I will chalk that up to exposure therapy, prescribed by myself, for myself. And, I love my babies’ feet.
Imagine my surprise when I realized just this year – Maundy Thursday is a traditional time where a Catholic priest will wash the feet of people, recreating the scene from the Last Supper. I now kind of wonder if the entire incident of the 6th grade foot washing debacle happened on Holy Thursday. But, now that I am older and reflecting a little more on my life, I am just still unsure if I could ever have anyone wash my feet and be able to sit through the action.
So, as we head into the solemn activities of Holy Thursday, I will be trying to reflect on the greater meaning, and what Jesus was trying to teach us. The key word in that last statement is “trying,” because now that I have pieced together what my teacher may have been attempting to teach my class, I doubt I will have much luck looking at Maundy Thursday as a day of reverence, rather than the day I called my teacher out for not being Jesus.