I volunteered at the men’s homeless clinic again today. It had been a long day— I was tired from lack of sleep, unintentionally webbing in and out of consciousness during class, standing through hours of lab, picking out pulp by pulp of fat. Don’t get me wrong— I love what I’m learning, I love where I’m at, and I’m excited for where I’m headed. However, it can be simultaneously very exhausting; I was half-tempted to cancel my shift and retreat to my apartment, but with one glance at my white coat, Dr. Foster’s words came rushing back to me.
The white coat, a great burden and a great responsibility. By donning it, you mask away your own personal problems, you mask away the secular pettiness, and you focus on what’s important: the person in front of you. You focus on the premature wrinkles etched on their forehead, the bags under their eyes— signs of a difficult life. You focus on the journal they are holding, the wedding band on their ring finger, the prayers they whisper to themselves when they think you’re not listening— what brings meaning into their lives. You focus on their story and their suffering, their fears and their hopes.
Towards the end of the night, there was a fifty-something year old man who came into the clinic complaining of leg pain. During his visit, he was eager to share with us the poems he had written (he had three of them), reciting them from memory. Lyrics about his brother who had passed away, about finding God and finding himself, about trying to quit smoking. Spoken word— real and raw.
Since we had no more patients, I stayed after to hear more of his writings. He had a journal full of them— tens and tens of scraps of paper, crumpled and wrinkled, stuffed in between the pages. His soul, the ink.
You really like them, ma’am?
Yes, they’re beautiful.
When it came time for him to leave, he pulled out one of the pages and told me that he wanted me to have it. Stained yellow, tattered around the edges, fragile along the crease lines. It was supposed to be a letter, he said. A letter never sent.
I know it’s hard with our manly pride. But you’ve gotta think my brother, she beats you mentally, so you in return beat her physically. Who wants to see their women beat up?
Classes, money we won’t pay.
Jail, family divided.
We should treat people especially our women with extreme respect.
P.S. You know we pick and choose our partners and battles.
A piece of his life, now mine. Though our circumstances are different, the human condition is something that we share. We feel, we cry, we snap, we laugh, we struggle, we make mistakes, we give up, we try again.
It is things like this that inspire me— the resilience and fragility of the human spirit, and the connections that we make that make it all worthwhile.