bread rather than jam
leaf by niggle, by J. R. R. Tolkien, is one of those stories you read and continually re-read as you grow. you find that its meaning changes with you as you go through your life stages.
the story starts with a very ordinary person. he was a good person, but he finds himself not doing enough. he gets a glimpse of something worth yearning for, and strives to recreate it in his life by painting. he finds many distractions, irritations, and even a nosy neighbor who gets much but does not give back in return. then he dies.
he spends moments (loosely defined because it could just be days or it could be a century) in a place where he is cleansed of non-essential things. he begins to appreciate the bread rather than jam.
i remember our medical training. we were supposed to go on duty at a local maternal and newborn government hospital. i remember a particular day when we helped at least 80 mothers give birth. yes, one day. we were sleeping on our toes. we were zombies, catching a newborn here, dipping partially used surgical thread in alcohol (to be used later on another patient), assisting an emergency cesarean section there. it was 24 hours of the absolute pits.
i remember the image of piled up placenta in a drum in the outer room. i remember the manong shooing the cats who were rummaging through these tissues. i remember questioning why we were in this place. it was the shattering of the image of noble medicine, with your hands in between a lady’s legs, catching a baby and the things that come out with them.
disillusioned, we had to return to that place every 3 days for a month.
looking back, this was actually our place of cleansing from non-essential things.
after duty, you go on rounds in the ward. sometimes, there were three patients to a bed. and you check the wounds, the stitches, the bandages… you report those who needed a re-stitch, or a lancing of an abscess. and generally you were just there, on autopilot, trying to do your best.
then a tug on your sleeve as you were leaving the bed of yet another mother and child. “salamat po (thank you),” she said, through gritted teeth, as the anesthesia was wearing off, “pwede po bang malaman ang pangalan ninyo (may i know your name)?” her eyes were smiling despite her discomfort.
“bakit po (why)?,” i ask.
“para alam ko po kung kanino ipapangalan ang anak ko (so that i will know whom to name my child after),” she explained.
and just like that, the circle completes.
this is why we do it. this is why we need to suffer with our patients. this is why, no matter how little thanks we get, we to strive to do good.
and like niggle, when the time comes that i meet the shepherd, he will say that i had done enough. that when we look back to the things we had done, and though the picture would have crumbled to dust, the place we left was better because we were in it.
and we would finally begin to laugh.