So there’s this weird thing that goes along with being a doctor’s kid: people think I know medicine.
It happens to my mom, too. And my aunt. It’s always struck me as a funny assumption, as though 8+ years of education are transferred over the dinner table.
It probably also has something to do with the fact that I was pre-med for a while. Several years ago, I guy I had dated texted me out of the blue and said, “So this doctor thinks my finger might be broken. What do you think I should do about that?”
No joke. To which I of course said, “I’d go with the doctor on this one. The extent of my medical training is…none…But I can help you balance a redox reaction, if you want.”
But that isn’t entirely true. I do know what to do with a broken finger, provided that you don’t need stitches. And I have spent a lot of time around medicine. I can play doctor pretty well.
I can mimic the careful, distanced way that doctors touch their patients, the way they move body parts carefully, in degrees – does it hurt when I do this? How about this?
I know the questions to ask: when did the pain start? Is sharp or throbbing? Constant or intermittent? What about fever? Nausea? Swelling? Signs of infection?
I know what the questions are supposed to sound like. The problem is that people answer my questions. And I’ve got nothing. I recognize that the information is useful, but I have no means of synthesizing it into a diagnosis, much less treatment.
It was the same feeling I had in Uruguay when we were sent off in cabs to find the Brazilian Consulate. Our instructors told the cab where to go and we rode along, got out where he stopped, and then stared up into an intersection that suddenly felt like Times Square with no idea where to go. I don’t know what I was expecting: a big neon sign that said Brazilian consulate probably.
So I went into the nearest store and asked in
terrible passable Spanish: “Where is the Brazilian consulate?” And then I was forced to stare blankly at their hands, hoping the motions they made were meant to mimick the directions.
The ability to ask a question does not mean that you are bringing real understanding to real human problems.
And I feel the same way in church sometimes. Like, I’ve spent my whole life around this, I know the right questions to ask, I know what it’s supposed to sound like.
I know that I’m supposed to welcome the marginalized, to align myself with the weak, to feed the poor. But usually when we talk about how we enact the beliefs we claim, it follows the same thinking we heard from our peers in middle school, “well I totally told that kid not cuss in front of me, and man, did that show him what a Christian I was.” As if that has anything to do with the hard stuff of living out a life of kindness and love and forgiveness.
Last Sunday, I pulled up to a stop light in Dallas to find a man, wearing shorts and a trench coat, walking bow-legged down the line of cars, cup and sign in hand.
And I don’t know what to do. Because I have a grand total of $2.63 in cash, and I don’t think that is going to do him one ounce of good. If I thought it would feed him, enable him to find a life that didn’t necessitate begging change out of a long line of shiny new BMW’s, I would give it to him.
But I don’t believe it will help. I believe it’s the grown-up equivalent of telling a classmate not to swear. It makes you feel better and does not one ounce of good for the other person. But what good is abstract thought when I’m staring at a real, physical man with real, physical needs?
Or not staring at him, actually. Because I want to smile at him, but I keep hearing that scripture voice in my head, “He who says to his neighbor, ‘Go, be well’ but does not give him food..is an abomination.” Or something. I’m a terrible Christian and I don’t know where to find the actual verse. But it’s in there, trust me.
*Side note: during my freshman year, my bible professors would constantly be like, “and then in 2nd Timothy 14:2, [probably definitely not] Paul said…” And I was like that’s so cool. I’m sure by the time I graduate I’ll know every verse in the bible, too. Didn’t happen.
I’m not even sure I should smile at the guy. I mean, what’s worse? Smiling and doing nothing? Or ignoring him? And what about all the rest of the world’s poor? Should I even own a car? Should I have a wedding? Is everything I’m doing with my money wrong?
And honestly, I’m mad at this guy. I’m mad that he’s forcing me into an existential crisis when all I want to do is get breakfast burritos with my mom.
And I’m mad at myself that I feel more frustration than empathy.
And I’m mad that I still don’t know what to do.
Today, all I have is a question. And I still don’t know how to answer it.