Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Goodest Samaritan? Part III (end)

When I think about the week I spent with Humphrey, it amazes me that his leaden spirit did not weigh mine down to the point of depression, something I have much suffered in my life, as any reader of this blog knows.  But the Holy Spirit kept my spirits up in the spirit of service to this helpless yet grumpy man, and I learned a lot from him.  What did I learn?

First, let me say that as a doctor for 31 years I have never had a tougher case.  Here's a man who claims to have kidney cancer, melanomas (I didn't observe any on his skin, only what looked like possible early squamous cell cancers), and obviously has end-stage emphysema and a crippling neurological syndrome for which there is no treatment.  Combine these maladies with a leaden spirit, a stone heart, if you will, and you have an ungrateful yet demanding patient who depends on you for everything but resents his very dependence.

I thought long and hard about his two major illnesses and what possible psychic link they might have to his life and came up with a hypothesis.

Although a professing Christian who attends the Church of Christ, Humphrey, I believe, made a bad spiritual decision 26 years ago.  When he lost his wife and son (his son was about 5 at the time), he said he grieved for two months, and that he was really in love with his wife.  I was happy that he grieved, but I explained to him that in my experience as a doctor, that the normal grief process for a mate takes a least a year and is never entirely healed.  But he claimed he had gotten over it in two months.  Therein lies the puzzle.

How could this be done?  Only by shutting one's heart off completely to grief, and thus all feeling.  I believe Humphrey began to withdraw from any emotional engagement with other human beings after this tragedy for which he insufficiently grieved.  Witness that he had no friends left to rely on when I found him, that his one link to his home fell through, that another supposed "friend" in Medford (who was to help us financially, as I was tapped outr) he couldn't even locate, and that he has no living family.  My hypothesis is that after this tragedy he closed his heart down and swore, in some sense, that "nothing would ever hurt him again."  As he withdrew from the human race, as he practiced what my Shakespeare professor called "The Economy of the Closed Heart" (in reference to Polonius' speech in Hamlet), his heart slowly turned to stone.  And his two major illnesses are virtual incarnations of that withdrawal.

Think: With his emphysema he can only spit out a sentence gruffly before having to catch his breath, so he is prevented from normal conversation, and also any variation of emotion in his verbal delivery--his sentences come out flat and clipped with no emotional modulation.  Secondly, his neurodegenerative disease makes it impossible for him to shake hands with anyone.  He can't open his hands.  He can't give a hug. 

Isn't it frightening how in the sentence of his body he is also withdrawing from the world physically?  Doesn't this in some way represent his decision to withdraw from the world emotionally?

Never say to yourself, "I will never be hurt again."  Your heart may turn to stone like Humphrey's, and then your body may follow.  As long as our hearts are open to the world and our fellow humans, we are in constant danger of being hurt, and that is the price we must pay for intimacy in an imperfect world.  Those unwilling to pay this price may succeed in protecting themselves to some extent, but in the end they will get smaller and smaller, with fewer connections, with fewer life-sustaining bonds, until they are trapped within the fortress of their own self-protection.  What a terrible fate.

I prayed with and for Humphrey repeatedly, that God might start a spark in his heart and reverse his chronic withdrawal from the risk of contact, but he ended up asking me to "stop preaching at him" and I desisted and gave up.  I could not, for the life of me, affect his heart in any way, and my prayers were also of no use, I suppose.  My only hope is that somehow, when he saw me arrested in the course of trying to aid him, that it might have shocked him into a human feeling of sympathy for me, or even guilt for what my service had cost me.

As I surmised, the man is nowhere to be found on the web, so I must chalk up my expenses as a loss.  Yet the lesson is a valuable one.  May I never close my heart to hurt lest I close it to love.


Craig Erickson

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