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A few weeks ago, a friend sent me a picture of her son’s hand.
His index finger was swollen, angry, and bruised; painful even through the small screen of my iPhone. Her note said he’d been up most of the night, pained tears running down his little face.
This particular friend is a naturopathic physician. Over the course of the day she used soaks and poultices to begin to pull the invisible infection from his finger. She had no clear idea what had caused it: a spider bite? a splinter? Young boys get into all sorts of things playing in the woods.
Throughout the morning she sent me photos as the inflammation and irritation centralized. Later that day, my friend took her son to a doctor who sent a sample to the lab. They learned it was a staph infection and antibiotics were prescribed. Still, the doctor was impressed with the progress, so poulticing and soaking continued. The knuckle got huge and ugly as the infection surfaced and localized. To the untrained eye, everything looked so much worse.
But there is a secret that healers know: as infections become less diffuse and rise to the surface, they often look worse. Much worse. And, yet, we know this is the path to healing.
Our American culture has been suppressing an infection of prejudice and racism. It’s rising to the surface now, blooming bruised and ugly. In the initial stages, it will seem to be getting worse. The wound will ooze and pus, the anger palpable. It might be hard to see the good in it. It might be difficult to remember that, for healing to happen, the infection needs to be drawn to the surface.
It’s hard to witness an infection drawing to a head. It’s hard not to panic, to instead calmly soak and poultice as my friend did, drawing the infection ever outward.
It’s hard to remember that once things are pulled up, they can be drawn out, and then healing can truly begin.
That’s the work right now: to allow and encourage this horrible infection to come to the surface. It’s not fun or pretty. But, if you look closely, you will see the social body begin the path to healing.
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