Even though it isn't her real name, let's call her Penny. And the picture to the left isn't a picture of her either. Unfortunately, that is a photograph of a professional model.
Yesterday I visited a place I'd heard of but never been to before. It is the Renfrew Center, near Philadelphia, a treatment center for people with eating disorders.
A young friend of mine has been an inpatient there since just before Thanksgiving. I went after church as a Eucharistic Minister, to bring bread and wine to Penny.
Bulimia and anorexia are incomprehensible to me. My own issues with weight are far to the opposite end of the spectrum. I'd been worriedly watching Penny as she became thinner and thinner, and then for a while she was looking better, healthier, and I stopped being concerned about her. Then all at once the process reversed and Penny began looking gaunt. When something went wrong with the family's furnace, Penny's mom phoned to see if she could come stay with me after school that day instead of going home -- Penny simply didn't have enough natural insulation to protect her in the unheated house.
When I saw Penny yesterday, she was talkative and open about her illness. She showed insight into what was happening to her. She spoke of being goal-and-accomplishment oriented and how this had played into her weight loss; she is learning how to handle this facet of her personality in a healthy way. She's progressing well enough to have earned passes to spend some hours at home each weekend. If she was being honest with me (and I realize that this is a very big if), with the proper support after her discharge in a couple of weeks, she's going to be fine. Penny is a lovely young girl, and yesterday I could see her natural beauty returning to her face, which had looked so gaunt the last time I had seen her.
Being at the Center was an eye-opener for me. Everywhere were young girls, incomprehensibly thin, with sunken eyes and many with angry expressions. It was apparent that some of them did not want to be in treatment, that they were there against their will. Most of them had long, dull-looking hair, and were walking around wrapped in a blanket to keep warm. Worried-looking (oh, what is a stronger word than "worried" -- for it just doesn't do the job here), heartsick moms and dads were there, too, since it was visiting hour.
I was there to bring Food: Bread and Wine, Body and Blood. Spiritual Food that Penny asked for, Food that she knows she needs as much as she does the meals that are served in the cafeteria. She asked me to come back next Sunday, and indicated that another young woman might want to join us, asking if that would be okay. Of course it is. There is plenty for all.
Take and eat, Penny. Jesus said, "This is my body, given for you." And for every one of those young girls.