Lessons in Painted Nails

I love the movie Girl, Interrupted. Especially the end where Susanna paints Lisa’s nails and in that small act speaks to her value, worth and beauty as a person. Its a scene that lingers in my mind and inspires me to find practical but meaningful ways to do likewise. Just a few weekends ago I heard there was a teenage girl in Ward A who had been in the hospital since October. She had earned a reputation for being difficult at times, and justifiably so! On top of the joys of being a teenager also imagine being stuck in a full leg cast and having multiple surgeries over a period four months, living in a hospital ward with your mom and baby sister and other rotating patients. The pain alone is frustrating but the the fact that your privacy is gone, your freedom is hampered and you’re isolated from your family and friends and your normal way of life. Yes of course it will all be worth it but, be honest, when you were 13 would you behave any differently? Anyway, after hearing about her I decided to go down and visit her. I assumed there wouldn’t be a translator so I decided to bring down some nail polish and paint her nails and connect that way. Little was I prepared for the demands of a strong willed young woman who adamantly wanted stripes and flowers painted on her nails and would not settle for anything less. I finally understood the frustration of the many nurses who have worked with her over the months and my heart broke a little at how frustrated she must be feeling and I was upset with myself for being frustrated because I was unable to do what she wanted. Lucky for her I am equally stubborn and I really wanted to do something for her that would make her heart happy. So I sat there and painted her nails countless times over the course of two hours until I finally got it right and she smiled. And when she smiled it made all the frustration and miss communications worth it because her smile was huge and genuine. She pushed her hand out in front of her and admired her nails, she wheeled herself over to her mom and showed her. She kept murmuring, “Sa bonne.” (it’s good) and then made her mom come over and get her nails painted. I went into the ward with a plan and an idea of how it would go and how easy it would be. I wrongfully assumed she’d just be so happy someone was spending time with her she wouldn’t care the details. But what a good lesson that night was for me to remember that true service doesn’t always look like what you plan for; true service is sacrificing your notions and plans to minister to others. That night it looked like using half a bottle of my precious, and hard to come by, nail polish remover. It looked like not giving up and trying to make the stripes and flowers just right. It looked like her showing me what she wanted by letting her paint over my freshly painted nails. But it also looked like big smiles from both of us and an hour spent drawing pictures together after her nails dried. It looked like her mom’s eyes lighting up after she looked at her own painted nails. That night it meant speaking to someone’s worth and value in a tangible way and reminding two woman of their beauty in a very simple way.

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