There are myriad ways to experience a numinous happening. Sometimes, we don’t identify it until it is past. That “a-ha” comes as a joyful awareness that some one or something has shaped our lives as a gift that we cannot overlook.
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Dr. Larry Wright is my friend. He would say, “Well, Constance, I’m honored to be your friend!” And I truly believe he means it, even though he says and feels the same way toward every person he meets. Including, and, especially his elderly patients like me.
Larry was a pioneer in Gerontology, lifting up the unique needs of older persons who have more chronic diseases than acute. He says they need doctors that will take more time and listen to them with compassion and patience. He chose a specialty that is less lucrative and yet, deeply needed because of the increased numbers of persons aging persons in our population. Right now, he is the Associate Director of the Internal Medicine Residency Program , training young residents just starting their careers, at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. He served before this as Co-Medical Director of Circle of Life Hospice, and earlier: as founding executive director of the Schmiedings: Center for Senior Health and Education.
A few weeks ago, Larry shared something that he’s sure fits the category of Numinous! In 1978, when he started work on a specialty in Gerontology at The Jewish Institute for Geriatric Care at the Long Island-Hillside Medical Center, he made a startling and scary discovery.
He told me that the patients there were elderly and many of them had come through Ellis Island from the old world and some even as Holocaust survivors. He was warned that he, as the doctor would need, many times, to ask the family for an autopsy. And, that lots of them would not understand and possibly be offended at the request.
“At this point in my career,” he said, “there were quite a few unexpected things to learn and I realized that I was culturally naive. I began to doubt my effectiveness and ability to handle this practice. I was sickened to think that after all these years, I might even have to give up being a doctor!”
“Did you feel close to God or try to get help from God?” I asked.
“No, Constance, I just felt totally numb! One day, in sort of a fog, I heard that a Rabbi, Dr. Felix Silverstein, a specialist in Medical Ethics was lecturing. I went in and sat down to listen. When he was finished, I waited and asked for a time alone with him.
As we talked, it became easy to confess the main problem that had consumed me. I blurted out that I felt I was a complete failure when one of my patients died. Night and day, I asked myself what had I missed? Where could I have done something different and saved him from dying? How could I work with the elderly and yet be completely traumatized when I lost one of my patients?
Dr. Silverstein looked me straight in the eyes and confronted me: “Larry, you are playing God! You don’t have the responsibility for the decision! You may be a part of God’s plan. Maybe even a good death! But, you are not God!”
His insight changed me completely. “My confidence, from that day in 1978, came back, not in myself, but, this time in God!”
“And you think Dr. Silverstein was somehow God’s agent in answering your dilemma?”, I asked.
“Yes, I do. He was sent by God, to help me. Yes! even when I was too paralyzed to call on God for help myself”
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Larry has been such a good friend. Don was pastor and Larry the Lay Leader when First United Methodist Church, Rogers was founded 25 years ago. They met at 7 a m, each Thursday, in Larry’s office to pray and share with each other.
Years later, Larry came with the church’s workteam to Chile to help us restore A Methodist Camp that had been closed 17 years during the dictatorship. One workday, Larry watched Don carrying a huge log on his shoulder. He asked him to put it down and let him examine him. “Don”, he said: “You’ve got to get back to the states, immediately!
And we did. The result was a four-bypass heart surgery.
Don loves to tell: “Larry traveled 4000 miles to make a house call and he saved my life!”