On the Kindness of Strangers

It was one of the rarer of mornings, when grayish gold sunlight began to thread the remnants of a December night’s winds, as in the fingers of those who have just released a handshake. I, being more delinquent in the past three years than the other eighteen put together, managed to haul myself out of bed early enough for a leisurely walk to our hallowed halls of learning. There I was, face and feet making friends with concrete, mind engaged elsewhere, thinking thoughts a tad too deep for a weekday, marveling at how transient people are, when Subconscious told me to look up.

In my path, or it might have been I in theirs, were four grey beasts of burden. Farm animals, Juan’s best friends, loitering on a paved, red brick sidewalk.  Classically, a possum under pressure, I merely stared at the Breakfast Club. Taxpayers recently, and perhaps unknowingly, funded the construction of green ornate pedestrian fences, effectively eliminating crossing the street as an escape route. I fleetingly considered charging through, but as the four did not seem to be the gregarious sort, I would have been forced to take the long way round.  It was during this thirty second deliberation that a man jogging towards the opposite direction slowed and helped me work my way around the imposing bovines, making it possible for me to reach school, unscathed and prompt.

The whole encounter is inconsequential, really, save for the gentle surprise that the kindness of strangers still exists.

Sir Isaac Newton stated that an object in motion will remain in motion unless an outside force acts upon it. The same holds true for our progress as medical students. Unfortunately, the world we immerse ourselves in is a house chock-full of barriers and contrasts. It asks of us perseverance, and we morph into cisterns straining to hold one fact more than we held yesterday. It asks of us superhuman resolve, but shadows our labors with disenchantment. It asks of us compassion, yet it is unrelenting.

In medicine, it does not stand to reason that from whom much is required, much leeway is given. We are not the Philippine government. There are no shortcuts to the long white coat, no free passes, no loosening of strings, no lucrative under the table transactions intended to free our lives from stress. This baptism by fire is done for a good reason, but is one proof that medical school was never designed to be kind. The inquisition, the demand, the outpouring of statistics – none stop despite the loss of a scholarship, of a friend, of a father, of self.

In retrospect, these difficulties bring to light what we might otherwise take for granted. The patient who, despite his own discomfort, gracefully acquiesces to be physically examined by three little birds barely out of the nest; people for whom you have done no great thing stepping up and supporting you in a time of need; unnamed doctors and families who exhaust their contacts and resources to send to school a girl they barely know – these are silent, unrecognized acts of kindness. These are, I believe, God’s responses to every obstacle we encounter, meant to set us back in motion, pushing us closer to our Elysian fields.

Unquestionably, it is a difficult path we chose to tread. There’s you and the carabaos – but, unexpectedly, in the same picture, there will also be someone doing his morning exercises, extending a helping hand.

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