Human Gifts Registry Memorial Service May 8, 2001
I have often pondered, "How could any of us ever thank the most selfless person that we have ever known?" Because, if an individual's true worth is measured by what she/he gives to those around them, I can think of few greater things than ensuring the health and vitality of a community, a state, a nation, and a world. It is this selfless act that allows students/doctors to have the unique privilege to be able to stand in awe of the human body and in remembrance of the spirit. But accompanying the knowledge and perspective that we each garner from this experience is a tremendous sense of debt and obligation. Perhaps, it is why each one of us will spend our entire careers trying to repay something so heavy and elusive.
A student in our class wrote a poem that I hope can at least try and capture the essence of the tremendous reverence each one of us had for those moments and to a debt we can never fully repay.
From A Medical Student:
To the Most Selfless Person That I Have Ever Known
could anyone have truly known
of this before we began?
Sure some may have mused
but no one could have fully understood
the breadth and scope of your still hand.
I have heard, many times, this act
called, "giving your body to science."
But we who shared
that solemn room with you
know that those words do not explain it.
For you went so far beyond
the anatomical relationship of mortal things
and gave definition to a young physician
of just how fearful
and wonderfully we are made.
Each reverent night spent,
you taught us over and over
the origin and insertions
of this transient life.
You will stand,
transfixed in my mind
like Polaris, the great polestar.
And I can only imagine
we are like those first Phoenician sailors,
backs lying taut against
the well-tarred hull of their vessel--,
no compass or map to guide them
through the infinite unknown.
And like them,
we spent countless nights
searching, studying our northern sky,
until nerves and veins
began to take on patterns like constellations.
Each giving birth to stories, ideas
like mythical beings beyond this realm
that lead us through
the still landscape of our lives.
you will forever be a beacon
in my mind's eye
shining so immeasurably bright
that I cannot hope to comprehend by simple sight,
but just to let you guide, North and South;
our latitude determined solely
by the remembrance of you
and those hours bent
in such silent reverence.
I could never begin to interject
the joy and pain that you once knew.
Or guess how many times
those hands ran through a loved one's hair.
I often thought of your voice
and how it must have been
distinct like the first lilacs of the spring,
but I know those memories
are not for me. The ones I hold
are in the gratitude of my mind
and will always allow
figure of my patients
to lead me back to you.
As if swollen tonsils,
fractured fingers, or tender abdomens
were little boats
that brought me back
to those first and lasting lessons
that you taught.
I wish there was some way
beyond these simple lines
that I could repay the debt I owe
to the most selfless person I will ever know.
For you have given me a knowledge
that will touch three lifetimes
and your eulogy will be repeated
in every patient that I see.
Each time I press my stethoscope
against a chest and hear a breath's sound
I will remember you
and know that the spirit
can never be contained
within costal margins, any more
than a mountain's rigid walls
can hold the wind.
of a heart
will take me above
the intricate workings of the cell,
to the infinite debt that I owe.
For it was you who first let me see
that these are the sounds
of a fragile vessel—
echoes of the spirit's whisper
in this ephemeral plane.