The Phantom Itch

Well, the wind was blowin' a gale from the north and did not seem interested in entertaining visitors, so we took refuge with the kids and extended family in a theatre putting ourselves at the mercy of another form of wind (which turned out to be more mild but much less fresh). The lights had gone down and the movie was starting when a clinking beneath my chair was heard. Upon checking my pockets, I discovered I was no longer in possession of my pocket knife. Assuming it was the sound I had heard, I proceeded to wait an hour and half for the lights to come up. Mysteriously even with the added light, no knife appeared, and now here I am having lost my knife.

However, I am proud to report I was able to keep my emotions in check during these moments of loss. In fact, I did not even have the motivation to crawl around any more than a few seconds on the theatre floor. But this was not the case for my son who, when he heard I had lost the knife, was greatly disturbed. It was a big deal to him and he was concerned about me and how I would carry on. It must have been my years of experience in the realm of losing many things that has hardened me or made me more mature (I'm not sure), because, without a doubt I was a "things" kind of kid. One of my most well-known childhood traits was not found in my character, but in the presence of a bag in my hand. I wanted to be prepared and there was a feeling of security with my Duplo bag. By the age of about eight I had graduated to wallets. I distinctly remember two incidents in which I realized I had misplaced my wallet at this early age. A sinking feeling washed over my body and I could no longer enjoy the night out with my family or the holiday at my grandparents until I had again secured it.

These losses are small, hardly worth mentioning to posterity. However, at this moment I am reminded of a certain summer night in the Sangre De Cristo mountain range under a cool starry sky. A couple of buddies and I had parked ourselves on the cabin porch steps. Next to us was a man with no teeth and a gun in his hand. He was the sentry entrusted with bear patrol as the bears were being extra frisky and frankly reckless in their attempts to confiscate our grub. These bears, still smarting from an earlier barrage, were not yet willing to risk a foray, so there was time for a story or two from the man with the gums.

It had been many years since he had been a P.O.W. in the Pacific arena, but the memories were clear. Being hung by his thumbs and having all his teeth wrenched out in prison did not break his resolve. He and his friend's chance for escape came during a bomb raid and they both dove into a trench they had been working on. While they made it away from the prison camp into the wilderness, his friend had lost an arm in the escape. Brilliantly our companion on the porch saved his life by using urine to wash out the wound and maggots to eat the necrotized flesh. In the end they made it back to friendly lines alive. The stories did not end there as later he became a body guard for President Johnson, but the part that piqued my attention now had already been relayed. It was the bit about his friend's lost arm. What a loss it was and continued to be, I'm sure, even though the saving of his life overshadowed the loss at the time.

Now this is difficult. Please forgive me for laying the loss of a pocket knife next to the loss of an arm. There is almost no comparison in degree, but there is a consistency in theme, and the relating of one of my favorite miracles addresses this very theme. It goes like this: "The crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel."* Though not given as many words as some of Christ's other miracles, the account is no less potent. "The maimed whole"! Who better to know what whole looks like? The Creator of the whole knows best what has been lost! The maimed whole and the crowd amazed!

It is here that all loss, no matter the degree, finds it's cure: in the Maker of the whole. Loss is separation, separation is death, and through Christ death is swallowed up in life. Though I may have controlled my emotions when the knife went missing, other losses are not a matter of stoicism. It is the Creator's offer of wholeness that is the only salve for times such as in the past weeks when praying over a classmate who does not know Him, but has become acquainted with colon and kidney cancer.

Maybe there is something else that we have missed here? There is a phenomenon, I have heard, among those who have lost a limb, that of a phantom itch. Here is the feeling of itching or pain in the limb that is no longer there. Here is a sensation of wholeness without the present reality. Here is a glimpse at what we long for. Here is a picture of the evidence of loss in our hearts. Here is the pang over the loss God did not desire. Here is the hint of wholeness offered. Here is the hint of wholeness to come in Him. 

The Pacific arena, the midwestern plains, and the streets of Judea create a picture for us of a worldwide problem, worldwide loss. In fact as I searched the theatre floor for my knife, I happened upon someone else's own pocket knife. I am not alone! Therefore, how can I withhold the good news of Him who found me when I was lost and restores to wholeness that which is lacking? The coin that was lost has been found, the sheep that was lost has been found, and the maimed have been made whole!

*Matthew 15:31
Phillip Tippin
On The Brown Chair Again
Roeland Park, KS