Meet little Mialy, Mia, and their father…known simply as Baba. They—along with 15 other siblings—made up my host family during a time spent in the arid region of southern Madagascar, where I was doing research on the Antandroy communities.
I often think back to this family with bittersweet fondness. When I was there, I was profoundly inspired by their love for life and their appreciation of the simple joys it brings…while endlessly cheered by their wide grins and generous laughter.
But now, when I glance at this photo, their visage seems to reveal a truth much deeper…and my heart aches a little.
Nevertheless, the sound of their laughter will remain with me forever, and I am thankful to have met them…and grateful for the lessons they taught me in treasuring the simple moments in life.
Dedicated to all whose compassion serves as a light in this world…
Shattered like a vessel of alabaster rent for its salve she is an ointment poured forth upon bleeding souls and wounded flesh a river of compassion forged with an oath fueled by a vision those hands of clay guided by light skillfully molded with a wisdom paid with a price.
Tendered is this touch that saves and soothes comforts and mends strength sustained by the pulse of a heart constrained by its own calling the candle within softened by flame its waxen tributary a remembrance to the joys and sorrows gains and losses moments treasured in the care for mankind.
Once when I was on a specialized heart failure service, I took care of a teenage boy. He had a form of idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy (a weak, enlarged heart), and he had a huge heart…in more ways than one.
He loved baseball, pumpkin pie, and horses. His family owned a farm, so before he got sick, he would often go horseback riding. He also loved to draw.
We—a team of five physicians—took care of him for a month while he was waiting for a heart transplant. He liked us. We liked him. So he drew us as well.
I thought he was clever. But he thought I was even more so. All because he liked my joke:
“What do you call a cow with no legs?”
That was it. He was just a great kid, trying his best to live the life given to him.
It used to be, that at the end of our visits, we would both say to each other, “Ground beef!” with a wink and a huge smile. It perplexed the other physicians, but we knew exactly what we were talking about.
It was just a silly joke. But for the two of us, it somehow meant something more.
I found out recently that he passed away. And today I found the drawing he gave me. And I wept.
But not just any man. An elderly man, a former high school teacher…and a former patient of mine from a charity clinic where I used to work.
It happened as I was driving through downtown, stopped at a light beneath an overpass. Suddenly, I heard a familiar voice.
Since we were both hungry, we did the natural thing: we went for lunch at a nearby cafe. Despite intrigued glances from others, we had a lovely lunch. Looking back, it may have been one of the most enjoyable lunches I’ve ever had.
A few days later, I was contacted by the clinic who informed me that I had received a letter from a patient. And here I will share it with you—in a form put into verse by me but which maintains its original wording:
Dear doc, you have been so kind to me. Why, you even took me to lunch. I wish I could give you something in return, but I know I don’t have much.
So I write these simple words to you in hope that on those days that they’ll make you smile and give you strength and peace in many ways.
You are a doctor to many, but an angel you have been to me, who encouraged, cared, and healed my pain, and a light you made me see.
I am sad that you are no longer my doc but am glad that you are my friend. And I hope we can keep in touch until the very end.
So why did I share this? Because I was “challenged” by Liz to give a gift to someone. But now I realize—I don’t think I succeeded in giving anything to anyone.
Rather, the gift was given to me.
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Founded in 2014 by Dr. Phoebe Chi, PhoebeMD: Health + Inspiration is a health information and literary arts website that aims to inspire, empower, and inform through a curated mix of essential health information, uplifting stories, and original poetry.