Every week, I visit assisted living facilities to provide mental health therapy for the seniors there. The other day I walked into a resident’s room and found a gentleman in an adult diaper, waiting for some assistance to put on his pants from an aide. Feeling humbled and embarrassed, I excused myself and offered to wait to speak with him until he had pants on. But he didn’t even blink – he told me it was a fine time to talk. A nursing assistant retrieved his pants for him and laid them on his lap, and he tenderly worked to move them up one leg and then the other. As I got to know him, I realized he had been pretty powerful by society’s standards – he had money, a high performing job, a lot of respect in his community. We spoke with his diaper still visible, and I found myself amazed by the fact that he didn’t seem bothered in the least; he seemed to have accepted that he needed help for some of his most basic needs. I went home that evening and diapered my 6 month old baby.
How incredible it is: we start and end in diapers. We spend our lives building up our assets and career and stability and power. Then, at some point, we are reminded of our fragile humanness. It can be sudden and unexpected: a friend passes away, a family member receives a bleak diagnosis, or you break your foot and have to depend on others to cook or carry things. In these moments of powerlessness and vulnerability, we become more aware that God is the vine and we are the branches. It is easier to accept that we are not in control of everything. Like the gentleman with the diaper, we begin to realize we need help. As Anne Lamott says, “If I were going to begin practicing the presence of God for the first time today, it would help to begin by admitting the three most terrible truths of our existence: that we are so ruined, and so loved, and in charge of so little.” She says that this acknowledgement “I need help” is the most basic prayer, it clues us into the presence of God.
The gospel reading says, “Just as a branch cannot bear fruit on its own unless it remains on the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine, you are the branches.” In the daily grind of balancing full time work and full time parenting, I can easily start to think I am the vine in my current life. When things are going well, I often don’t recognize that “without me you can do nothing” as the gospel reading says. I can get an inflated view of my own agency and power, and forget that my strength, resources, control, comes from somewhere else, besides just me. The gentleman was clued into a truth that I often forget: I need help. We all do.