Medicine For People!

December 2017: Those Who Give

Nuns digging clams

Those Who Give

Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas, carried out its mid-year graduation in a perfectly choreographed ceremony this December of 2017. My niece Rebecca won her Masters of Business Administration in energy management. The university Chancellor charged the graduates to have faith in their powers to make this a better world. He urged them not to let the polarization and intolerance of today's public discourse discourage them. Rather, he said, just as they needed to have faith in their own powers, let them always have faith in others, to recognize the goodness even in those with whom they might disagree on this matter or on that. At least in most cases!

Let me give you some examples as encouragement for this season of rebirth and renewal.

While journalists gather more eyes and more clicks with stories of police brutality, most people in the public safety profession have high ideals. They accepted the lot of a police officer out of a love for human community, and a desire to protect that community from harm. Surely you know someone who wears the badge; are they not normal people with families and a simple determination to protect us?

Another group often painted today as villains are the religious-at least those with what the Catholic church calls a vocation. For you non-Catholics, this would include priests, nuns, monks, and anyone who dedicates their life to the church. No, I am not ignorant nor particularly forgiving of those few who betrayed the trust bestowed upon them. But I am acutely aware that the great majority of those that I have met in that church have been exemplary individuals.

For some years I cared for nuns retired from the Milwaukee parochial schools. These were women who had accumulated and consumed relatively little in the material sense. Their rooms in their retirement convent were not cluttered with boxes of personal possessions and valuables. Those rooms were austere, as was the clothing of these women. Friends complain to me that some of these ladies were demanding in the classroom. In my experience as their doctor, they were stoic. Compression fracture of the back? No whining. Life coming to an end? None of them opted for heroic measures. A quiet morning? The walkers pushed their disabled sisters to mass in wheelchairs.

Before they'd come under my care, they'd made sure that tens of thousands of Wisconsin children had skills in language, mathematics, history, and all the talents necessary for success at home and in the workplace. Many who could not easily afford such an education received it at reduced or no cost because these women worked for much less money than do you or I.

Three of the hospitals I worked at in Milwaukee were administered and staffed by nuns; always pleasant, always professional. At that time, my favorite place to go for medical education was the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. One time I took a tour of the historical buildings and exhibits of the formative days of that clinic. Without fanfare, these exhibits revealed that the hospitals were proposed and financed by the Franciscan Sisters. I will never forget the abstemious lives of the hundreds of religious women who staffed their hospitals through the decades. (Today St Mary's Hospital faces financial challenges because of the waning numbers of such women.)

We humans have always relied on our hope and gratitude in seasons of darkness. In the noisy confusion of the current times, let us always remember the kindness and good will of our fellow--and sister--humans.

If you'd like to read our previous newsletters about my days caring for the retired nuns, check out May 2005 . For more about their exemplary acceptance of non-Catholics, try December 2007.

Thanks to Jody Bower for her invaluable help editing this newsletter.



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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.