I was walking on the boardwalk, kicking the pebble “up the road” and found that it danced to its own beat. Each kick revealed a different path, a different bounce in a different direction. Sometimes it would turn right and then as easily with the clatter of stone on wood it would turn left to regain the center. It was weird. There was no apparent rhyme or reason to its motion. Or was there? So I, on spotting another pebble, kicked that one and discovered that it bounced on a different path. Apparently the kick and the contours of the pebble dictated the motion.
Later that day I met a man in the mid years of life. He was robust from all outward impressions. Talkative and well traveled from the confluence of languages that worked their way into his way of communicating. It was natural to him. He knew the world that surrounded him. He was passionate about it and the feeling it imbued in him. He expressed these feelings without reservation, about the delight of seeing the first morning light and the enshrouding fog or the mossy hill, were each a wonder to him in their own right. Once in conversation he seemed to grow silent and later remarked that the hum of the fan and the twittering birds outside created a melody worth listening. Strange one would think, but not if you happened to meet him and listen to his internal clock of reference.
He was incarcerated from his living in the confines of a white hospital room. Dethroned from the elegance of his world’s stage to one poaching the nectar from afar through cracks in the window or the whispers of the nurses from a partially opened door.
The diagnosis was grave and discussions with him about life and survival were taken in the same vein as “what would you like for breakfast?” request. Every encounter was measured quietly and thoughtfully. There was no rise of emotions or a crashing thud of realism that made him wallow in the wake of chaos.
“Speaking about…” he would bring the subject to wood carving a hobby of his. He loved the essence of wood and the manner it could distill itself under the hands of an experienced carver to the beauty within. He mentioned the many wood statuettes he had marveled at by the great masters of the art. He talked about contours and curves with such pleasure that listening to him one could easily wander into a parallel universe.
“So what is your opinion of my problem?” He asked. His eyes direct as if looking at the depths of one’s understanding. One could not build walls of statistics around him to scale. No he could see right through their fragile scaffoldings. He never addressed his disease as anything other than a "problem."
“Well…” and he would cut you off.
“I understand.” He would interject. Not wishing to know the answer that he already had a sense of. Then he would once again launch into another segment of his life of adventure.
“If you want to see magic, you should go to the Amazon Forest. There are so many species of animals and plants that every where you look something new pops up.”
“I have heard.” I replied meekly.
“Did you know that the Amazon flowed westward initially?" He said with wide-eyed reflection.
“How can that be?”
“Millions of years ago, the Amazon River flowed west.” he began, and then clearing his throat he continued on a journey of his mind, “ When the tectonic plates of the South American continent and the Nazca plate of the African Continent, the Andes were born. That created a dam for the Amazon River and an inland sea was born. After the sea waters receded the gradient from the Andes made the Amazon flow Eastward. The marshy uninhabitable area was a relative sanctuary for the biodiversity of the gene pool of these animals and plants. For instance there are several species of Stingrays that match those found in the Pacific Ocean.” His eyes were now beaming with the thoughts that raced through his mind. “And for you guys in the medical field it has enormous implications. The discoveries of newer medications from plants and animal life are astronomical.” His eyes twinkled with excitement. He went on this historical journey leaving some details for me to work out for my self. He was a teacher in his own right. He made me open a geography atlas, a history book of the Peruvian Andes, learn about the Machu-Picchu culture and beyond.
The following day he went home with a smile on his face and a quiet goodbye. Missing him was difficult but remembering him was easy. He was a treasure trove of information. It was like getting an education in geography, history and humanity all encompassed in one.
Several weeks later a package arrived. Within the package was a one-line note, “Thank you for listening.” There was a wood carved pen of such exquisite detail that holding it the thumb and the fingers rested perfectly on the contours.
We try to erect taller ladders to scale the walls of someone’s intellectual castle so that we can impose our will and understanding. But a voice dear to my soul once said giving the gift of listening creates a better bond of understanding.
Medicine heals one person at a time. Listening to the patient makes the road to healing easier. Sometimes comfort is all that is required. Sometimes more, but that is in the art of medicine.
He was a pebble with very elegant contours that scaled the boardwalk of life.