I Believe in Home
When I was a young medical student, I met an old man who had no legs. It was during my community health course, and I had driven from Richmond back to the mountains of Virginia, near the coalmining town where I grew up. One day, we drove up a winding dirt road to a lonely trailer sitting up against a steep rise in the hill. We knocked, and the patient met us at the door in his wheelchair, both legs amputated above the knees. He answered our questions about his blood sugars and his meals, but was anxious to give us a tour of his home. Scattered throughout his tiny living room and in the windowsill of his kitchen sat a collection of rocks sitting in the morning sun. He had left the trailer himself to collect these rocks from the hillside. Each, to him, was a piece of art, and he explained in detail what each rock appeared to be to him: a heart, a cross, a face. As I grew older, living in bigger and bigger cities, I have met many people in time of illness, who bring with them little pieces of home–even if it’s a picture of a cat sitting in a familiar windowsill, or a piece of soap given out at a homeless clinic.
Home, to doctors–no matter how much we believe in it–often is a place where we arrive late. When I married twenty years ago, my husband and I bought a kitchen table with promises that, although we both practiced medicine with its unpredictable hours, our family would have a place to eat together. Now, we live in a large city, where there are museums showing beautiful pieces of art, sculptured out of rock. We live in a red brick house—and if you drove through the hills of Virginia, you would see many houses just like ours. Our kitchen table is made from a chestnut tree. We chose one with a top that is circular, so each of the four of us—my husband, our two sons, and I–would be sitting facing the center. We are all still here. Sometimes, the table wobbles and we figure out a way to keep it steady with a piece of folded paper under its heavy pedestal; sometimes somebody is missing; sometimes we don’t talk, but sometimes we do. Sometimes I wonder when my boys are grown, what they will think of when they think of home.
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