Hello – I wrote something on Respect a few weeks ago, but I have now re-written it and I think it is better – and thought you might like to see it.
A while ago, I went to Singapore to begin radiotherapy. The procedure involved inserting lots of tiny little radio-active beads around the tumour I have, to try to make it shrink so that it can be operated on. It is a very impressive operation, with the doctors slowly guiding the tiny beads into the position they want them, but I want to tell you about the doctor, who led the operation, because I was so struck by the respect and courtesy with which he treated people.
The procedure was a little late in starting, so he came into the room to apologise that there would be a slight delay, as he was helping out a colleague with a difficulty. Then, when he was ready to begin, he came and again apologised and began to talk me through the entire two and a half hour procedure – enquiring, all the time, how I was doing. This courteous attention was not because I was a priest, for he only discovered that towards the end of the operation, nor was it because I was a European, for I noticed he spoke to all his staff in exactly the same way. He was a courteous man and this courtesy – to those, who are sick or in a position of weak dependence – is “healing” and so, whereas I was wheeled into the operating room as a patient – someone in need of treatment – I was wheeled out as someone “healed”; someone, who mattered, no matter what was wrong with me. And it was the doctor’s courtesy that had helped make it so.
There is a difference between being “cured” and being “healed”: to be “cured” is to have a particular ailment or sickness put right, but to be “healed” is to be touched in the deepest part of who we are and be brought into “wholeness”, because by being recognised as a “person” we are given the grace to accept ourselves as we are – even though our sickness or disability remains. We are, in this way, enabled to take up the challenge of living, with all its possibilities and limitations – at peace with ourselves and the world around us.
I remember once visiting the famous Leper Hospital in Carville, Louisiana, USA, and being told of a Doctor Brand, who had worked there. He was a skilled rehabilitation surgeon and rebuilt the hands of his patients, crippled by untreated Leprosy. When he was congratulated on his skill, he would reply: “It is not my skill that heals them, but my heart; my skill can rebuild their hands, but only my heart can give them the courage to use them. Someone, who has been despised or considered of little worth – or believes him/herself to be of little account – often loses the courage to live. They need someone to believe in them in order to find their own self-worth and accept the challenge of living to the full – and the courtesy and respect given them is often be the sacrament by which God brings us into such healing.
This is not just true of the sick or marginalised, but of all people and all situations in life. I remember, a few years ago, visiting a priest friend of mine in his rural parish and as he did not have a housekeeper, we went next door to a small local café for our evening meal. We gave our order to the waitress and chatted while we waited to be served. When the waitress brought our drinks, I thanked her and my priest friend burst out laughing and when I asked him why, he said “You did not see her face when you thanked her; she is obviously not used to being thanked”; he told me to watch, when she brought our meal. It was, however, another waitress, who brought the meal, but when I turned to her and thanked her I saw the look of surprise and pleasure on her face. She was obviously used to being ignored, when she served people and it seemed to me that she walked a little taller and with a little more dignity as she returned to the counter. Such is the power of a word of respect – through God’s grace, it gives life!
We are taught how the Spirit of God moves with his renewing power throughout the whole world, but the way we understand the Scriptures can often obscure this. If we see the Scriptures as a “Sacred Script”, imparting knowledge of doctrine and rules etc., we will not see the wonder of the Holy Spirit’s passage through our world, but if we take Scripture as a “Key” which shows us where the Spirit is at work in our world, then, we will more and more see his finger in all the happenings of our daily life – including the courtesy with which someone like my doctor treats us.
The Scriptures reveals that whenever God approaches us, he does so with infinite courtesy and respect. We see this at the beginning of the History of salvation, when the Lord first spoke to Abraham, and we also see it in the courtesy with which Christ received and spoke with the outcast and despised, such as the leper, who said, “Sir, if you want to, you can heal me” and Jesus answered: “Of course I want to” and touched the man (Mk 9:23). We have an ancient saying in the Church – that wherever we find love and friendship, there we find God. We can also equally say: that wherever we find respect and courtesy, we can see the Life-giver at work – for courtesy and respect are the beginnings of love.
I went for my first dose of chemotherapy on 23rd September and felt great – for two days! Then I began to go downhill, until a week later, when I was due to go for my second session I was almost on my knees. When I arrived at the hospital in Singapore, I had a blood test, and later the doctor’s assistant came and told me that my white platelet count was too low to have chemo, so they would give me two weeks rest before the next one, which will be this coming Thursday 15th Oct.
I was told that this is a fairly normal reaction to the first session and I have now recovered and feel good and ready for the next session. Several people have kindly invited me to stay with them in Singapore, but because I politely declined because of how I might feel and stayed at a hotel next to the hospital. I was thankful for that decision last time, because I felt so bad I went to bed in the hotel, when I arrived the day before, and stayed there for 12 hours. If, however, I begin to tolerate the treatment better, then I may accept one of the kind offers, because Singapore is expensive.
Apart from that, I am managing to teach and do other things, and whereas I feel somewhat tired, I am also feeling very good in myself. I am sure that your prayers and good wishes contribute to that – “Thank you so much” for that.
Someone at the seminary said to me the other day – “You look good, but I will know that you are truly better when I see you behind a grasscutter again!