Friday, May 18, 2007

Faith, Children, & Some Big Questions

A couple of nights ago at the end of our usual bedtime prayers my kids gave thanks "that Mommy had a good oboe lesson." Warm fuzzies! I thought this was one of the cutest moments of the week. It's so touching to receive from support from one's own kids, who have nothing additional to gain from their show of affection and give so openly from their hearts.

Last Tuesday we shared one of those "Catholic childhood moments" talking about patron saints. My daughter was laughing at the dinner table at the thought that of all the different types of doctors out there, it's anesthesiologists who have a patron saint, René Goupil, a humble, sweet Jesuit missionary & surgeon who was martyred in Canada in 1642. I could write a whole post just on my admiration for this almost-anonymous guy, whose compassion for the sick and "patience in adversity" were so awe-inspiring to his peers.

So many people misunderstand about saints. I was explaining to our kids that people often seem to confuse talking to the departed with worship of the divine. I told them we can only worship God, but if the spirits of those who have passed from this life can live on and help us by praying for us, then we can certainly TALK to any of them, be they parents or friends or canonized saints. Then of course we had to browse the internet for various professions and situations that might have their own patron saints, and as I remember feeling as a child, they seemed quite captivated by the many stories of individuals we found. My son exclaimed, half in delight, half in dismay, "But now we'll have even MORE questions!" Last night my son continued with his exploration of the lives of the saints by reading part of Robert Kennedy's children's book on Saint Francis, which in one instance describes Francis of Assisi's kindness to lepers. Leprosy held a certain morbid fascination for my science-oriented little boy, and I was touched when he felt very sad to learn that lepers used to have to wear a bell to warn people of their coming so people could "run for their lives" in the opposite direction. I believe reading stories about people who have learned how to love better, show more kindness and compassion, and be more present to others, helps teach these values and virtues.

It's not always easy to choose faith in a world and culture in which rational empiricism is so exalted. I'm talking about the medical world, of course, though there are certainly many people of faith who work in the world of medicine. I've often struggled with this dialectical tension. Very often it seems words like "spirit" and "faith" are so highly disdained by many of my colleagues (disdain being the opposite of compassion, ironically, though compassion is supposed to be the quality that DEFINES us as a profession). If only they could answer my son's question, "But what CAUSED the Big Bang?" or explain to me why sound waves from a wooden tube stimulating cells in the cochlea and causing chain reactions of neurotransmitters in the brain can produce the transcendent experience we know as MUSIC, or solve the mystery of what life is and when it begins and ends and why. I've had to pronounce the end of life on a couple of occasions, and I struggle with it, because I know not every cell in the person's body has undergone cell death, yet I also know the person is dead. Or do I?

Most people don't realize anesthesiologists are in the business of RESUSCITATION rather than "putting to sleep." Consciousness, life, and death are always on our minds somehow or another.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very thought provoking, as usual :)
As you can see, I haven't blogged in a while. I'm on service, and the computer screen hurts my brain cells :)