A few years ago, I wrote about an encounter with a doctor who’d treated me for seven years. For most of that time we had a wonderful working relationship, full of humor, affection and honesty, all desperately needed to make the ongoing life-and-death choices about treatment options for my leukemia. I trusted him, and he confided that I and so-and-so were his 2 favorite patients. Despite my knowledge of the nature of those comments and of our patient-doctor warmth, feelings of a more personal kind began to affect me. They did not feel good; they made me nervous in his presence. When he asked me at the beginning of an appointment how I was, I told him. Alas, he heard it in a different way. He was was shocked, looked horrified and quite literally turned to stone. He said hard things to me, and gave me 6 months to resolve the feelings. With help and work, I did succeed in restoring perspective, but in the meanwhile he’d made a decision to toss me from his practice, which he did, and badly. It was a terrible blow that lasted for years. Still, the insights into old, harmful patterns of behavior I’d gained were, in time, worth a lot.
Four years later, I attended a lecture he gave, largely to test my feelings. They had indeed gone, but so had so many of the positive ones I’d always had for him. We said hello, and later we met by accident downstairs, on our way out. Our brief conversation led to this poem:
The Gifts Unopened
We found ourselves
on the street after the lecture.
Your questions were
righteous, pretenses of caring.
You checked me over
with a doctor’s practiced look.
Then you blinked — and I could see
your search for the thing lost,
still for you too shameful
to be called by name.
It was the blink I used to wait for
in our times together.
it held those things your science mind
could find no correlation for.
It held the heart-inspired gifts of truth
you always left unopened.