Good Medicine

Good MedicineRachel Naomi Remen, M.D. was one of the first to recognize and document the psychological and spiritual impact of cancer on people and their families. Through her television appearances and lectures, she has reminded many thousands of people of their power to grow beyond their current challenges and heal themselves. I was first introduced to her when she gave a speech at “The Art of Death and Dying” conference I attended in NYC in the early ’90s. I love her introspective, compassionate, spiritual way of being, especially poignant for me since I have often found those qualities lacking in medical doctors. Her writings reflect this; the brief story below is entitled “Transmission.”

I spent a few weeks one April in the Four Corners area of Utah in a little town called Bluff, celebrating the birthday of a friend of mine. On Easter morning we attended an Episcopal church service celebrated by a Native American bishop. With the exception of my friends and myself, the congregation was mostly Navaho people. The bishop was a middle-aged man of great personal integrity, and the service was beautiful. Dressed in a white robe with a woven scarf of Native American symbolism around his neck, he seemed deeply moved by the occasion and the story of the resurrection.

Most of the sermon was in Navaho, the bishop reading from the Bible in a voice filed with emotion. Then he glanced over toward us. We had not understood a word. With a deep courtesy he began to repeat the sermon and the reading for us in English. His English was perfect, but the passion of the first reading was simply not there. He struggled on, trying to make the English words transparent to the profound meaning of the story. Finally he looked up and, abandoning his Bible, spoke to us from the depths of his heart. “This man Jesus,” he said and paused. “This man Jesus, He is good medicine.”

This moment changed me profoundly. For years I had tried to be a good doctor and practice good medicine. I had taught many others to practice good medicine, first pediatrics and then mind/body medicine. But the bishop’s words pointed to something more, and in the depths of my being I recognized what this was. Perhaps what is needed is not only to learn good medicine but to become good medicine. As a parent. As a friend or doctor. Sometimes just being in someone’s presence is strong medicine.

– From “My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging” by Rachel Naomi Remen, M.D.

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