What Does Ownership Mean This Week?

This is a guest post by RMR. She is a clinical instructor and primary care physician for Stanford University. She recently participated with her husband and two children in the Women’s March in San Jose. 

Yesterday in the office I saw the gentlest of women– a 70-something burqa-clad Iraqi immigrant who came in worried about a bruise on her upper thigh. She always comes in with the simplest requests– a hearing aid that won’t hurt her ears, a new brace for her arthritic thumb. As she lifted up her long skirts I saw for the first time her underclothes– crisp white cotton bloomers and gray wool stockings of the softest kind. As I thought of the rain outside, I had a brief moment of envy imagining being cloaked in the warmth of her wrappings.

Over half of the people that I see in my clinic every day are immigrants. Half of them are from India (software engineers mainly, not surprising given that I work in Silicon Valley). In 2017 alone, in addition to India and Iraq, I’ve seen people from China, Afghanistan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Jordan, Turkey, Romania, Finland, England, Colombia, Honduras, Venezuela and Mexico. While the diversity of my patient panel is exciting, I’ll admit that on some days the cocktail of languages and cultures can be a little dizzying.
Certainly my head had to take a sharp turn this afternoon– I walked in to see a young boy and noticed his beautiful older sister in the corner. I couldn’t remember meeting his sister before although I knew the family– his brother is also my patient. I walked up to her and introduced myself. “Oh,” said her mother, “My daughter is transgender. I guess we haven’t seen you since she made the change.” I quickly realized this girl was also my patient– the brother, now sister. “Welcome,” I smiled and said, “It’s so good to see you again.”

All these people– the lady from Iraq, the transgender girl, the fondue of immigrant faces– are my patients. I’m their primary care physician. In the medical community this means they belong first and foremost to me. They are mine.

 Since becoming a physician I’ve reflected a lot on the idea of ownership, what it means to call someone mine. Perhaps a better word for ownership is stewardship. I remember a middle-aged man I cared for in residency, a “sinner” by any definition dying from the consequences of his sins. I would not have talked to this man had I met him on the street.
He had no friends or family to claim him but he was assigned to me so I called him “my” patient. I saw him every day, examined his body, lingered over his blood results, consulted with other physicians. This involved coming in early to round on him in the intensive care unit, staying late, walking up flights of stairs over and over to check in on him. Comparatively this was a small bit of suffering, but I was pregnant and giving of myself actually did hurt. At first it looked like he would live but one night his heart started going in and out of perfusing rhythms. As we shocked him and flooded him with fluids I “saw a vision.” I was standing with him at the Judgment Bar, heaven on one side and the fires of the hell on the other. As he was taken away toward the fires I found myself pleading, “No no, no no you can’t send him away. You can’t, he is my brother. Can’t you see? It doesn’t matter what he has done in his life, it can be forgiven. For I have cared for him, and he is mine and if you spare me, you must spare him too.”
When the vision ended I knew the hospital room was full of people I couldn’t see, ready to welcome him home. We stopped shocking and flooding and the green heart line on the monitor flattened, he heaved once, stopped breathing, and died. We all filed out of his hospital room leaving his body alone with the nurse.
Is suffering a necessary part of stewardship? And by stewardship do I really mean brotherhood or sisterhood or transcendence? Becoming more than just the self? Would Jesus love us as much if He had not atoned for our sins? Was the cross necessary for Him to fully embrace mercy? Can service without suffering be enough? Is only the pain allowed by our physical bodies strong enough to seal our spirits together? Truly His love before the Atonement was astonishing and His submission perfect. I am hesitant to extrapolate my own selfishness, my willingness to feel plead for another person only because I had actually felt pain on his behalf, to the Savior. Yet I wonder if His advocacy for us against the face of justice comes because of His own blood and tears, His own pain which He experienced in the garden and on the cross. I’ve pictured Him beside me as part of that initial vision, holding up His hands and pleading, “No no, no no you can’t send him away. You can’t take him, he is my brother. For I have cared for him, and he is mine.” As my eyes fill with tears I picture my own little suffering offerings– bleary eyes, tired feet, aching belly. They feel very small but very real as I hold up my hands and join the Savior in pleading, “He is mine.”
As I’ve reworked this vision over and over in my mind it has changed. Each time I have reimagined it the room of the Judgment Bar gets a little bigger, and now I see two separate versions of the vision. In the first vision, my patient is gone and instead I am the one standing between Heaven and Hell. The Savior is there but He is not alone. My mother with her small tight hands is there. Oh, and my father too. Strangers start joining in– people I barely remember, some I have never met, but who all did some small act of kindness for me in my life. They are each holding up their hands, palms up.
In the second version, somehow I’m spared. Another person has taken my place. I have joined the crowd and now I see the heavenly curtains drawn back and there on the edge of Heaven are rows and rows of bleachers surrounding the Bar. They are full with faces, blurry and endless and eager and hopeful. Actually all of humanity is here. Everyone has shown up. It turns out that it isn’t what we thought. Jesus isn’t alone pleading at the Judgment Bar of God, it’s all of us, too. Somehow we’ve caught the vision and we’re all saying, every time, “Can’t you see? We have cared for them, they are ours. Please, please, please forgive.” It no longer matters to me or to anyone else who the person at the Bar is or if we actually suffered in mortality for the person being judged. Someone in our human family did, and that’s enough, and I’m not there to be the judge anyway. I’m here because I’ve finally accepted what it means to be a child of God and to love the children of God.
How do I release myself from unnecessary judgement in this life? How do I learn to extend the same sense of stewardship and compassion I feel for my little world-sampling of patients to my neighbors, the people I meet on the street, the people dying from starvation in Venezuela, the ones who have died in Iraq, the president of my country? How do I break down the walls of my own weakness, prejudice and misunderstanding again and again to let someone else in even if it means being uncomfortable myself? What do I need to give or to do in order to be as the Savior, willing to suffer for all, to forgive all? Suddenly, today, the pain of feeling stewardship towards my brothers and sisters feels so heavy, but the call to pick up that cross and carry it forward feels more important than ever before.

Comments

  1. Oh my . . . I love this.
    “Is only the pain allowed by our physical bodies strong enough to seal our spirits together?” — I’ve tried to think differently but keep coming back to yes, maybe–maybe physical pain is the only thing that triggers empathy enough to bring us together.

  2. Your writing is so beautiful and was just what I needed to read. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for a vision of the purifying, sanctifying nature of suffering. It’s so important now to reach out to those who are suffering wherever they are.

  4. Thank you for this.

  5. I’ve been reading BCC for a long time and never posted, but this really moved me. Thank you so much for sharing. It resonates with my soul.

  6. Antonio Parr says:

    This is extraordinary.

  7. This is how you do it. Thank you.

  8. Remarkable, thank you. I especially appreciate the reminder that the crowd of people I’m called to extend the same sense of stewardship toward includes people I’m very angry with, like the president of our country. The hard things are those with power to change us.

  9. Yes. My mind has been running along similar lines recently. There are people I’ve worked with, people in my life that heaven wouldn’t be heaven without, for all their faults and funny ways, and I would definitely argue in their favour. That there is no direct connection via sealing ordinance is irrelevant.

  10. very nicely done. thank you

  11. This was profoundly beautiful and true.

    We have drifted so far in the church that our perception of God has lurched back to the iron age. Thank you so much for reminding us that in experiences like the one you described, our finest moments of love and compassion, we glimpse who God really is, and how he really treats us.

  12. Beautiful. Thank you.

  13. it's a series of tubes says:

    This is phenomenal stuff. Lots of though-provoking material. Thank you.

    “Is only the pain allowed by our physical bodies strong enough to seal our spirits together?”
    Part of me is very afraid that this is true.

  14. It’s not enough that we have Satanists in Church now we’ve got the SNOWFLAKES!

  15. This meant a lot. I’m so glad you shared it with us.

  16. Beautiful. Thank you so much.

  17. Olde Skool says:

    Truly, this has transformed my heart. It is an answer to earnest prayers. Thank you.

  18. Thanks for sharing your beautiful visions with those of us who are struggling to see the light right now. (Like me.)

  19. Also, please be my PCP.

  20. Beautiful, beautiful. Brava.

  21. This speaks deeply to me. Thank you.

  22. This was wonderful. I have a son who is also a heroin addict. For many years I prayed that I could be the heroin addict and he could be free of his addiction. I guess it doesn’t work that way.

    He is now almost 2 years into recovery, and things feel almost normal again, but your writing brought it all back in vivid color.