‘He shall dwell apart, making his abode outside of the camp.’ They would be outcasts, prohibited from the security and protection of the community.
The command is from the reading in the Christian liturgy for the last Sunday before Lent. The book of Leviticus is proscribing treatment for the Israeli man or woman afflicted with the dreaded disease of Leprosy, a scourge of humanity well into the last century. Only recently- within the last seventy years- have we understood the anti-bacterial protection offered by hand washing and developed medication for those afflicted with Leprosy, thereby making the exile of the infected unnecessary. In Biblical days, the infected individual was required to constantly cry, ‘Unclean’ in order to announce the danger of touching him or her to others; a practice we now decry as barbaric and cruel.
No longer do we need to exile the outsider due to disease or illness with our 21st century knowledge and medical systems, right?
Only three months ago, we witnessed the fallacy of that statement. One man returning home to Dallas who lied about his travel to Liberia was the catalyst for a short term panic. Had the number of Ebola cases continued to increase one could see easily the panic escalating to hysteria followed by easily imaginable consequences like isolation and exile. But that’s Ebola…justifiable due to terrifying risk of contagion and then of death, right?
It was Sunday morning and I was writing, working to complete my second novel when I heard my husband approach from the several mile walk he takes along the beautiful Oceano coast where we’ve been staying through the winter.
“Is it ok to bring in my friend Umberto?” John was talking about a homeless man he has met, a schizophrenic veteran who lives under the bridge.
I stared at him, mouth agape, realizing he was going to bring the man in here…to our RV, the RV I work so hard to keep clean. I looked at the stack of prayer books for the Divine Office I had been praying earlier, before dawn and nodded, wordlessly.
“Beautiful roses, a belated Happy Valentine’s day to you,” Umberto said as he sat on the leather chair where I just had been sitting, writing on my laptop.
Hastily grabbing the laptop just as he was about to sit on it, I smiled at Umberto, shook his hand, and thanked him for the good wishes and asked if he’d like a cup of coffee; working hard to ignore the pungent odor surrounding him and to stop wondering when the hand I had just shaken had last been washed.
“I prefer to drink rather than eat,” he replied to our offer of something to eat but did accept the deviled eggs I had made the night before and graciously accepting the beer John offered him. Umberto agreed that yes, a glass would be nice for the beer and a fork too would be very nice to eat his egg.
My husband, a retired psychologist, worked for over twenty years with former combat veterans. His respect and affection for these men is profound; at times like yesterday morning, he shows me what real hospitality looks like.