By William Hay
There was unrest in Israel. The Palestinians and the Jews were fighting in the streets. Shots had been fired. In the last months 180 Palestinians had been killed and thousands had been injured.
The Canadian Consulate had a travel warning out and the medical conference I was to attend here was cancelled. I came anyway.
I was first attracted to the practice of medicine as a “calling”. I was studying the Bible at University of Winnipeg under the professorship of Dr. Carl Ridd. He encouraged us to read about this man, Jesus. He was a healer, a teacher, a prophet, a carpenter, a son and perhaps a God. I didn’t know much about God at the time. When it comes to what Christians call “sin” or “missing the mark” that is being outside the influence of the divine, well, I’m admittedly more knowledgeable. One might even say that at times in my life I followed an errant path with great passion and precision.
At this time I was studying diligiantly and praying and searching for God and meaning in my life after the excesses of the late 60’s had left me empty and needing to be filled. Dr.Carl Ridd was a man I could admire. A world class athlete, a manly man whose wife and children loved him and one who was forever taking up unfavourable causes, like the plight of the poor or the needs of children, in a world where money and progress meant so much more. I listened to him and enjoyed his deep sense of compassion.
I was born a Christian. I went to Sunday School. I lived the faith as best as my parents could do with a wild thing. I was more comfortable with my dog than people and up to mischief with as much alacrity as he sought out the prizes in garbage. We were a pair.
While I fell away from the church for sex and drugs and rock and roll I returned to attend once more and talk to the minister and then later Dr. Ridd. I’d sit in the chapel at University of Winnipeg and pray alone between classes. My marriage was on the rocks. I didn’t seem to be of use to anyone and so many people laughed at me because I seemed to always have strange ideas of justice and equality.
The war in Vietnam was raging and I didn’t want to fight. I prided myself on saying that I was a lover not a fighter even though I too was an athlete and spent years studying the martial arts and getting in to far too many scraps to be wholly innocent of provocation.
Jesus was a man of Peace and Jesus was a healer. It was in that chapel at University of Winnipeg I decided to be a doctor and follow in his footsteps. I was campaigning against war in general and marching for peace not against the soldiers but against the arms manufacturers and the war profiteers who so often became our politicians or the ones behind our politicians.
I’d become a doctor and I’d be a member of physician groups for peace. One day I’d be here in Jerusalem nearly 30 years later reflecting on my life and praying again fervently to God to guide me in my life. I was all dried up as I’d once been then. Divorced again and feeling out of sorts with the endlessness of work. Asking why too often.
And remembering Jesus. He was the greatest healer. Other physicians have written books about his miraculous powers at curing blindness, infectious diseases, orthopedic deformities and all manner of illness. Before his time he preached immunology. The infectious agent he called “demons” and “right living” was his recommendation. The whole history of Jewish law before had been oriented to “life”. Chaim. The rabbis and teachers all the way to Maimonides and on would give themselves to sorting out the laws of God in nature and find that which benefited health. Jesus taught the same.
And yet as a healer he could not heal himself. As a savior he could not save himself. God he taught loves us and is in relationship to us wanting to be loved by Him, to turn from the darkness of evil ways to the light of health and purity. Evil really, to the Jew, was so often just an expression of “unhealthy”. So much scorn has been made of the language of the ancients by the arrogant and modern that it behooves one to reflect on what was said at the time in the context of the day. We are all prone to misinterpretation and the teachings of Jesus on health are probably the most misunderstood.
And yet the men I most regarded who made the greatest contributions to science were themselves believers in God. Einstein, so easily comes to mind. Then all the great medical doctors of the Victorian era who laid the groundwork for all our learning in medicine today were themselves Christians. Jesus has always inspired healers.
To the Jews he was a rabbi or teacher, to the Moslems, a prophet or seer and to the Hindu an incarnation of God, while to the Christian he is all and more. But mostly he is a healer for as Kierkegard wrote in this condition of life we as humans suffer “sickness unto death”. This has been called the existential angst. What modern and postmodern psychiatrists call anxiety and mood disorder and what physicians so often see as a precurser of somatic illnesses especially the chronic slow killers of today is this sense of alienation from our selves and our God. It’s so readily captured by the terms that so often bring patients to physicians “being out of sorts”, “not feeling myself”, not feeling “right”, something “not good”, something “off”.
I am in the Holy Land today remembering to take off my hat in the churches, my shoes in the mosques and to put on my hat in synagogue while in the streets people are being killed for not much more. I am asking God to heal my broken life and studying the teachings of the world’s greatest healer because while I’m facing a postgraduate subspeciality examination next month I really don’t think I’ll fail because I haven’t yet learned Anion Gaps.
But there is this other “gap” this other place where balance is necessary. There is this time when I sit in whatever place of worship and reflect that for thousands of years men and women have sat where I have and prayed, and worshiped and reflected and contemplated and taken time just to ask why and beg for guidance from some unseen perhaps nonexistent really place.
As Buddhists might say I’m seeking the stillness to balance the business in my life. I am reflecting on the man whose life called my own to follow in the path of healing and who I hope will guide me on to the grave because quite frankly I’ve never regretted a day of service in the art and science and spirituality of medicine.
On the other hand left to my own devices in my own personal life I’ve sure been prone to make a muck up of things at times.
“You know as a physician I only deal in probabilities. My prognosis is an educated guess and highly significant but even with all the greatest advances in medicine and the miracles and downright wonders of modern science I cannot with any certainty say that I or anyone else for that matter is going to be here and alive next week.”
“Or tomorrow if you keep going to Bethlehem when our governments have clearly told us not to.”
Together we laughed. And we laughed even more when someone said, “Could you pass the bread.” Maybe I just came to the Holy Land to learn to laugh again. It sure is something you see a lot of here when in honesty I still expect religion to be solemn and boring. But no the priests and monks and rabbis are as human as Jesus and everywhere in the tunnels and streets of Jerusalem there are children playing. I know that Jesus would have liked that. Because he did say that we must become like children again and as a healer I know that that surrender and releasing and letting go and giving in and relaxing is the first stage in recovery. It comes after the shock of realization and the trauma of illness and the utter come-uppance of a path not taken or an unimagined horror. My first comfort as a physician is to share with patients and let them know that they are still human and apart of when their illness whatever it be makes them feel apart from.
Whenever I sat with a person dying I knew so many friends and family turned away. It was as if death to them were an infectious disease, something that was best avoided even if it meant unforgivably and deeply shamefully turning away from a loved one dying when this world doesn’t even give us enough time for living. It is in those moments when as a doctor I see the nurse and the closest family and so often a man of the cloth there. Bosses and business associates, politicians, tax collectors, plumbers and all others who had once benefited from this life have long ago turned aside.
We’re all in this thing together and together we can help each other through. Jesus today still helps me through. I can give him that much. He has given me so much for so little that I can indeed here among the ruins, shrines and museums find it in my heart to thank Him.
Today I’ll ask the Lord to cleanse my heart while I try to find somewhere to do my laundry. Maybe tomorrow I’ll go onto Gallilee if that isn’t too dangerous.