Hildebrand human person

The Pain of the Leper

6:00:00 AMCristina Ramos

I dread being sick.  

More than the discomfort of a runny nose, cough, or sore throat is the overwhelming feeling of sudden isolation.

I am quarantined: I go into my room, shut the door, keep the tissues and medicine nearby, and patiently wait for the bug to pass. I am isolated from everyone and, for the sake of everyone’s health, the world is probably quite grateful for my choice to withdraw.

But the isolation gets to me, which is a funny thing for me to say for an introvert who cherishes a lot of alone time. There’s something to be said about this introvert feeling isolated. There’s a distinction here: it’s not just “alone time,” nor a time to rest, re-center, and take care of my body; it’s not even that I have removed myself from society for a few days.  

It’s the overwhelming feeling that society has removed itself from me.  

I have been removed from society not so much by choice, but by a societal expectation for the common good of others to not spread the germs I have. Because of this expectation, I am left with this unshakable feeling of being untouchable: this is what pierces my isolation, this is what affects me far more than the original illness itself.

Think about it.  

One of our first instincts when someone coughs near us is to step away — and for good reason. Of course we don’t want to get sick. Yet it is worth noting that our first response to illness is: distance. It is rare for a person to reach out to a sick person beyond the verbal “get better soon” and “oh, sorry to hear that.” In our effort to not get sick ourselves, we impose, perhaps unintentionally, an even greater sickness upon our brothers and sisters: loneliness.

I am moved with both sympathy and shame when reminded of the plight of leprosy.  

Before the cure for leprosy was discovered, lepers were considered among the most unclean in society. No one dared visit or touch them. Even the religious of the time did not take the risk of coming near their presence. Though they had done nothing wrong, lepers were rejected by everyone. They had no one to console them, to love them, not even the supposed “people of God.”

Screenshot 2015-02-23 at 19.10.35.pngI am moved with sympathy because I can only imagine how painful such an isolated life would be. If I am saddened by a few days of isolation, how much more painful would it be to go through a lifetime of this? Aside from the given lack of physical touch, imagine how deeply these people were also wounded emotionally and spiritually by others--by the way people looked at or talked about them. The lepers were not only shunned physically from society, but disgraced verbally and distanced emotionally from the community as a whole. Lepers were cast off into the wilderness in every way. Their lives were the epitome of isolation.  

I am also struck with shame by stories of the lepers because the temptation to isolate others is still true today, of which, I am also guilty. Perhaps my circumstances are not as extreme as shunning an entire group of people to a far off mountain or cave, but shunning still happens, and the feeling of isolation is still just as painful for those who must endure it.  

Consider those of us who face cancer, HIV/AIDS, skin deformities, unplanned pregnancies, down syndrome or any number of possible societal "set-backs." How often have we used the term “value of life” to qualify whether or not their lives are even worth living?

Take a good hard look in the mirror.  

How do we nurture and love these persons? How do we include them? How do we go above and beyond to demonstrate that they are just as important to community life and to humanity as anyone else is? How have we communicated that we have just as much to learn from them, if not more, as anyone else? How have our actions or inactions instigated their depression or lack of self-worth?

The list doesn’t end there. How often do we hold societal or personal stigmas against a broader range of people? Groups that may hit closer to home: those with emotional disorders, eating disorders, alcoholism, varying sexual addictions, the poor, the underprivileged, and those who are attracted to the same-sex? We have a slew of fancy names to categorize our own prejudices: racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.  But I don’t believe these categories are nearly far reaching enough to describe the final “ism” we have for people: perfectionism.

Ultimately, it is our perfectionism that blinds us.  

It narrows us.  

Screenshot 2015-02-23 at 19.31.25.pngWe buy into a list of rules of how people ought to be, behave, look, act, sound, spend, etc. It is a list whose classifications portray a “holier than thou” attitude. But the truth is, when we place others in a box, we instantaneously place ourselves in an even smaller box. In categorizing others, we end up proclaiming our own inability to love perfectly and fail to love through imperfections. The moment we try to measure the "quality” of another’s life by material standards is the moment we have declared our own inability to understand true “quality” at all. When we fail to love others in our perfectionism, we lack the reverence to honor their inherent value.

In Fundamental Moral Values, Hildebrand discusses how loving one another goes hand in hand with having authentic reverence. He writes:

The basic attitude of reverence is the presupposition for every true love, above all, the love of neighbor, because it alone opens our eyes to the value of men as spiritual persons, and because, without this awareness, no love is possible. (1)

Perhaps not all of us have made a New Year’s resolution yet, or have given thought to making a Lenten promise, but as for me, I have chosen to to serve more, to give more, to grow in reverence, to love more.  

I cannot bear the thought of going another moment, whether purposive or accidental, of categorizing anyone.  

I will not do it. 

I feel my own share of isolation when I am sick or saddened and I do not want others to feel the same. The virus of loneliness and a broken heart is far more contagious, far reaching, and detrimental than any other imperfection of the heart or body. Greater than improving the “quality of life” is a need to improve the quality of hearts. The answer to all this, to properly “measure” the quality of life is: immeasurable, unconditional love.

So I encourage you: touch the untouchable, embrace the unloveable, take joy amidst suffering. Respond to the human person before us, rejoice in the gift of life, and thus discover the remedy for the true pain of the leper.

Screenshot 2015-02-23 at 19.52.42.png


Cristina Ramos 

I love the beach.  

The rhythmic motion of waves is always sure to put me at ease.  Its stillness is where I can clearly hear the voice of God.  It is also where I experience the best capacity to sing, dance, write and contemplate life on all levels, whether philosophical or spiritual.  With everything I face, I remember to carry with me faith, passion, sweet dance moves and a good laugh.  

In the future, I hope to continue to travel the world and be a missionary.  And have lots of cute kids! 


(1) Dietrich von Hildebrand, Fundamental Moral Attitudes, 13.
Image 4


You Might Also Like


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.

Popular Posts

Search This Blog

Contact Form