They ask me what it’s like to be a petite privileged girl living in an inner city ghetto on the south side of Chicago..
When the doctor’s asked what surgery she’d had and she said with a smile that she didn’t want to talk about it, alarm bells rang like the sirens that came after her 911 call.
The doctor pushed through her silence and it shattered with the words ‘I was raped and I had an abortion.’
I felt like I had forgotten how to breathe for a moment… or the girl who had an asthma attack this morning in the clinic had stolen all the oxygen… her mother didn’t care enough to keep it controlled.
They call this place ‘the holy city’ because it’s where all the gang lines meet. And it felt like holy ground but ground that I didn’t know how to walk on. Ground that was so hot with the fire of the Holy Spirit that it was burning my feet. I watched a giggling 13 year old girl with a secret turn into a broken woman.
I tried to catch her eye in our silence. My small offering in the midst of the ashes.
They taught us at medical school that it was more about checklists than listening to stories. Everyone has a story, one we will never know if we never ask. In a culture of noise and talking, we must learn to rearrange the letters of the word ‘listen’ and make them spell ‘silent,’ because sometimes there are no words worthy of the pain. When silence is all we have to give, let us learn to sit in it. Let us recognize our calling to lament and weep with those who weep like Jesus wept for Lazarus. Let us avoid loving at a distance and learn to love like a neighbour. As Christians we must choose to challenge ourselves and take a fresh look at the notion of ‘professional detachment.’ We must realise that detachment is devoid of the connection that fosters healing. What if, with discernment, we chose to be IN the suffering instead of being on the outside looking in?
They told us at medical school to detach from other people’s pain in case we catch it like an infectious disease. But there is a pain I have coddled up to and I am intent on catching because maybe it feels like we cheat the world when we don’t share in its pain just like Christ shares in ours.
Beyond prescribing and note taking we are called to be ministers of reconciliation, using the sword of the spirit to cut down the barriers that commonly divide us; so that a privileged girl with a thick British accent can take the hand of an African American girl from the ghetto and call her sister.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
After all of this, I am still left with the questions; How can I be a ‘christian health care provider,’ how can I be a good physician? We joke that health care providers can have ‘God complex’ – aloofness combined with blithe confidence in their powers; if that is the definition then the God being imitated is not that of the Gospels. So one thing I know is that we need doctors and caregivers who do what Jesus does, who can be present, trust in God and lament when the suffering remains.