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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
 
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  Home  > Personal Wellness  > Rosemary's Teaching

Rosemary's Teaching

Rosemary was a student of mine for several courses, a remarkably talented woman - a counselor, a fine cook, and a weaver. Rosemary was born with a degenerative spinal condition that left her body twisted and hampered normal development.

One day in class we were working at the front of the room. One at a time, the students left their seats and came forward to take part. Rosemary remained at her place. When I asked her, Shall I bring the equipment down to you, or clear some space so that you can get your wheelchair up to the front? Or," I hesitated, not sure that I really wanted to make the offer, "shall I carry you?"

"I want you to carry me," she replied immediately. And so I did.

My reaction startled me. I was really afraid to touch her. Her body was no larger than that of a five-year-old child. I love to pick up children. But here was an adult. Here was a twisted body. Old voices filled my head. For one split second I was repulsed as if I might catch something. Catch her paralysis, her deformity? No, catch my own. . . . What was happening was that I was touching deep within myself - to the hidden, ugly places, which I don't usually let people see. I was reminded of my own weakness, my vulnerability, my mortality. Tears streamed down my cheeks. Rosemary was crying too. I looked up and saw the entire class, as one pair of eyes, connected with us. Many others were crying too.

"I asked you to carry me," Rosemary reported, "because I needed to be touched."

As we left class that day, everybody touched. Hugs went all around - to me, to Rosemary. Men hugged men. Women hugged women. We had all learned an invaluable lesson. - Regina




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