I recently found someone I thought I had lost, a dear friend from my childhood. We spent days and nights roaming the woods near our homes, catching crawdads and minnows in the creek and turning rocks over to look for banded water snakes. We shot bows and arrows and rode bikes.
We would sled until we could barely feel our fingers, we'd work in gardens in the sauna-like Ohio Valley swelter. We took tae kwon do together, working out in a gym with no air conditioning. We spent many an hour poring over martial arts magazines in our young zeal to be great fighters (and to look cool). We would duel with long sticks on logs over creeks, like Robin Hood and Little John. We once went to Myrtle Beach, and I don't know whether we were more excited by the ocean or the prospect of buying fireworks (then illegal in West Virginia).
Andy loved animals then (and now). I well recall the day we spent at my grandparents' house, catching a flock of near-wild Bantam chickens for him to raise. We would follow them up the hill, and they would fly down. We would go down, and they would run up. It was exhausting and entirely hilarious.
We lost touch after high school, but a while back, a mutual friend referred to Andy. I contacted him, and we had a phone conversation that lasted at least an hour, maybe more. We revisited our stories and our joys, and caught up on the blessings and sorrows of our own families. We laughed and basked in the glow of friendship rekindled, of a treasure recovered.
We won't lose touch again. We plan to have many more talks. If we lived near one another, we'd probably take long walks again. Odds are we'd disagree on a few things, like politics, religion, and culture. My friend is gay and lives with his long-time partner, and I'm a straight, conservative evangelical. But none of that mattered when we reconnected. We were so happy to talk again that those things were too far down the list to merit discussion. And even if they do emerge, I suspect our talks will be conducted in the framework of mutual concern, respect, and shared history, not contention.
I think there's a lesson for us here. As physicians, we'll frequently find ourselves at odds with our patients, fellow staff, or administrators. Sometimes, those differences will be striking. But when we take the time to know people, especially when we have shared history and concerns, we can transcend differences.
Conflicts don't disappear, of course. To imagine that love means not only tolerance but the total acceptance of every viewpoint is folly and a kind of intellectual tyranny. Those differences put in the right perspective, however, allow the human being before us to rise to preeminence.
It's much like raising children. I have three teenagers now. (One has safely transitioned to the age of 20.) I don't always understand their music, I don't always get their jokes, and I certainly don't always share their viewpoints on many issues. Nevertheless, I smile and respect them, I hug them and cook for them, I tease them, and I play with them. I try to guide them, and I would do anything to keep them safe, happy, and whole.
People will always clash on issues of faith and culture, lifestyle and religion. These clashes can become bitter and painful. This is perhaps more true in medicine than in any other arena where we interact with a vast collection of human beings, some the same and some extremely different from us. If we can remember to see them all as lost friends we haven't yet met, our practices may be that much easier, and our interactions that much more joyous.
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