December 5, 2007

The Ones on the Edges

We have been celebrating the life of Chris McConnachie this week in Mthatha. The funeral today overflowed the cathedral and there must have been a couple hundred people at the grave at Bedford Hospital. I bet it is one of the few times a bagpiper has played at a grave under a palm tree.Yesterday, there was a memorial service at the hospital attended by many of the high and mighty of the Mthatha health world and beyond. I enjoyed listening to the stories of Chris’s work from his long-time colleagues and learning more about all the different ways he contributed to the improvement of health care in this region.

What struck me, though, was how everyone began their speeches by greeting, as is the custom, everyone on the dais, the assembled eminences, family members, and so on and so forth. Perhaps protocol always demands this but it occurred to me the people who were neglected in the introduction were precisely the sort of people Chris dedicated his life to: the neglected masses on the edges of society who need operations to carry on with their lives. It is these people who make up the bulk of the clientele at Bedford Hospital and it is these people who were the most direct beneficiaries of Dr. McConnachie’s work. The great thing about orthopedics, I hear visiting surgeons say over and again, is that you can see the results of your work; bones are fixed and people are able to use them again, to walk, to lift, and so on. When your life depends on your ability to do physical labour, these sorts of surgeries are tremendously important.

In some ways, I wish my cleaning lady Hilda had been given a chance to speak on Tuesday. The first time she saw me after Chris’s death, she was effusive (and this from someone who barely speaks English): “He was a great, great man. He saved my life.” She then proceeded to show me the scars from the operations Chris had performed on her after a car accident she was in a few years ago.

My first year in university I heard a sermon preached on Acts 19:7-12, the story of Eutychus, who comes to hear Paul preach, but isn’t quite sure of himself (so I infer) and sits on the windowsill on the edge of the group. He falls asleep (Paul liked the sound of his own voice), falls three stories, and is killed. But Paul rushes downstairs and brings him back to life. The message of the sermon was to be always mindful of the people on the margins of life, those sitting on the edge of the group; that I still remember it is a sign of its impact on my life. As I’ve been processing Chris McConnachie’s death, I’ve found myself thinking again and again of the Eutychus story. In many ways, Chris was a Paul-like character in the midst of the many, many Eutychus’ in this region.


Anonymous said...

All shall be well
And all shall be well
And all manner of thing
Shall be well.
Julian of Norwich