Medicine For People!
An Ordinary Woman
In the early 1980s in Brookfield, Wisconsin, I cared for a woman who cleaned motel rooms for living. Her clothes appeared to have come from Goodwill or Kmart and were permeated with cigarette smoke. She could not have weighed 100 pounds. She never seemed to take a vacation and often had a second job. Her work required all her time and her daughter the reason for it. That’s who she lived for. Our bodies are machines; drive them hard and they require extra maintenance, so she came in enough times to make the impression I’m sharing with you.
She had a self-effacing personality and not once complained about her lot in life. Neither made she any claim to sainthood. Her nutrition wasn’t the best and she needed dental work. But I always remember the extraordinary dedication that pushed her through long days as she fulfilled her responsibilities. I always regarded her as a kind of heroine.
At this time of year the media are touting the best and brightest of the passing year. We're told to look up to artists, successful entrepreneurs, and – in times of emergency – to firefighters or rescuers or missionaries. These heroes glimmer and shine; they make us feel we should make more of our lives; they make us feel we should be better than we are.
Never forget that the real heroes live in our own home town, collecting our garbage, nursing us in the hospital, repairing our automobiles, teaching our children, balancing our city budget -- this list could go on and on. This list probably includes you.
This world we all share brings much bounty, but it also brings stress and risk of failure. There are times, many times, when we need to push ourselves to do things that are difficult. We may not boast of achievements such as those we see in the news, but each of us has some element of the hero in our daily lives.
The World Needs All of Us
Too often, people apologize to me that they are sick, that they feel bad emotionally, that they need a medication, that they have interpersonal problems. I tell them what I would like to tell you today—that there is no need to apologize for being who you are. We are humans. Our physical bodies sometimes fail us. Our emotions can confuse us. We aren't always at our best and we don't always do our best. One of the wisest comments I heard about the Clinton sex scandal was that they should have taken that opportunity to hang a sign on the White House, saying, "A human being lives here."
You and I, all of us, live in a dual world. The media, seeking to entertain us, holds up a few of us as worthy of emulation. Let us never conclude, however, that the rest of us are intellectually or morally deficient. In our real world, in Port Townsend where I live, skilled people repair boats, make paper, raise children, keep our city sanitary, and even practice medicine.
A New Year’s Wish
May we always be aware of the beauty in the ordinary, the quiet glory within yourself and all of us. In this season of rebirth and renewal, I wish you comfort with yourself as you are. You are perfect.
My suggestion? When you see a way to improve yourself, start that day. Do what you can. Be the quiet hero of your own life.
Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.