Corsets and Penguins


I remember vividly the day as a student nurse, when I was helping a 90 year-old lady to undress, so that she could have a bath. Having removed her dress, I discovered she was wearing a corset - the like of which I had never seen before. It was tight fitting, but fitted her perfectly, and it was sturdy, and had at least 50, probably more, tiny little hooks and eyes that I had to undo. Half way down the line of hooks and eyes, each one an individual challenge, I said to her ‘however do you manage to do this every day?’. Her answer was that she had got used to it, and then said ‘why – don’t you wear one?’ I had to laugh and admit that I didn’t – she didn’t comment, but I wonder what she thought of that young student and her liberal ideas of dress!

That incident came back to me, having read yesterday’s lectionary reading from Acts 14, which includes this verse ‘There they strengthened the souls of the disciples and encouraged them to continue in the faith, saying, “It is through many persecutions that we must enter the kingdom of God.”’ (v 22 NRSV). It seemed to me that the phrase ‘strengthen the souls of the disciples and encouraging in the faith’ is something that is essential at this moment, as we live through this time of pandemic. Having looked up the word ‘strengthen’ in the lexicon, I discovered it has the meaning of ‘to prop up’, ‘to support’, ‘to uphold’ – which was what reminded me of the corset – because it enabled that lady to maintain her posture perfectly, even when she didn’t have the strength to sit upright herself because she was so weak.

I know the idea of a corset can be unhelpful, because it can speak of restriction and constraint, but properly worn they can be essential to maintaining good posture. I like the idea that we can be part of each other’s corsets – spiritually speaking! There are times when I struggle, and need others to pull on the strings of my spiritual corset, to keep me upright, and when I am strong, I can pull on the strings of others – to help support them.

There are so many ways we can do this, too many to list here, but the important thing is to remember we need each other – just like penguins who huddle against the icy winds, taking it in turns to have their backs to the icy blast so that others can warm up. So, we too, move from the cosy middle of the huddle, to the icy blast on the outside of the huddle, and back in again. Whether we are isolating on our own, or in houses with family, we need each other – and we need to look out for each other!

Suzanne Owen

Centre Chaplain

This message was added on Saturday 16th May 2020