Biff America Column: Scars of insensitivity
Ryan Summerlin July 18, 2013
Rachel is an extraordinary person, and I avoid her like the plague. She’s not mean or selfish, far from it. She is, however, needy, assertive and slightly annoying. Where some might see the glass as half full, she sees it as almost empty and containing raw sewage. Plus, she doesn’t think I’m funny.
That said she is remarkable woman. She graduated medical school near the top of her class, and rather than use her degree to gain wealth, she lives a life of selfless service. She travels to Third World countries caring for the impoverished, yet she seems unfulfilled. She is cursed in that it’s easier for her to provide for strangers than to find happiness for herself.
I would guess she’s not the president of my fan club either. We’re not really pals; we just occasionally are thrown together. Her sister, Gail, married Peter, one of my oldest friends. Though we are civil with each other, we just don’t connect on a personal level.
Rachel recently returned from East Africa, where she and a few others traveled to bring health care to those who would otherwise never see a real doctor. I can only guess how many lives were improved and how much suffering was prevented.
She returned to the states recently and put on a slide show at her sister’s house on an evening I happened to be visiting.
The inspiring images of Rachel caring for and educating the poverty-stricken villagers tempered my long-held negative attitude toward her. One picture made me feel particularly guilty. Standing in the middle of a dirt-floored hut, Rachel held a newborn baby, just delivered in a difficult birth. In the background was the mother, smiling but obviously fatigued.
The beautiful brown child, with a shock of black hair sticking out from the simple blanket, looked like a fur-colored nut contrasted to Rachel’s red hair and pale complexion. Absent were the usual pursed lips and lines of tension on Rachel’s face. In their place was a beaming smile of pride and relief.
It might have been the sun coming through the thin walls behind her, but she seemed to glow as if she was carved into a plate glass window.
Peter said, “That photo is amazing! Let’s send it to Rachel’s dad. He hasn’t seen her in over a year.”
Rachel’s father is some kind of uber-businessman who travels the world making deals and millions. She worships the ground he flies over. After several failed attempts to download the picture into Peter’s phone we decided to try mine.
I enclosed an email telling her father I was a friend of both of his daughters and asked to forward the picture of Rachel to him.
I wrote briefly about the situation of the childbirth and what a wonderful impression the photograph made on me. I left out the part about how I’ve long considered Rachel a stick in the mud.
Three days later I received a response from Rachel’s father. He thanked me for the picture and said it caught up with him in Tokyo. There was no mention of the joy on the face of his glowing daughter. He said nothing in regards to the beautiful baby or the two lives that she helped save.
What he did write to me, a perfect stranger, was, “Looks like we will need to get Rachel a dental appointment for teeth cleaning when she is with us over Christmas!”
I read and reread his response hoping I misunderstood his words. There was little room for misinterpretation. While even the most jaded and cynical of us would look at that photo and see the miracle of life and the magnificence of kindness, her own father saw only stained teeth.
Why is it that we often treat those whom we should love the most with the least amount of compassion? My brief encounter with the man who raised her goes a long way to explaining where Rachel’s petty peccadillos, which had so annoyed me, were born.
Sometimes you need to look closely to see that what you once perceived as flaws in people are, in fact, are scars.
Jeffrey Bergeron, under the alias of Biff America, can be seen on TV-8-Summit and read in several newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.