Patey, Paul

Ahead of me in the widest corridor in the hospital I notice a baby carriage and three ladies, their attention joyfully focused on the infant; the carriage temporarily immobile. The middle age lady with her hands firmly on the handle of the carriage is almost certainly the proud grandmother; the young lady beside her the happy mom, and the third a friend they have met. As I approach I hear the high pitched tone with which women instinctively speak to infants. The friend is leaning toward the baby and saying "Oh, you are so precious!"

The word "precious" rings many bells in my head. I glance toward the child and as expected see a beautiful five-month-old, alert and full of smiles and joy. I know at five months the child will have a sturdy neck, great perceptivity, and no fear of strangers. Quick as a flash I spin on one foot, lean forward and close, point at the baby and assertively declare: "Every one of us, by the time we are old enough to talk, should have learned that we are good, valuable, precious, lovable and capable of loving."

Turning immediately to the friend I continue by promptly saying "...and you are being an excellent teacher."

Then I immediately resume my rapid pace and vanish down the long corridor away from them without a glance back.

Since that moment I've amusingly thought about the three ladies' many possible responses to my brash interruption. If we meet again will they remember the gray haired person who thought preciousness was important?

Ten minutes later I am parked at a red light. On a pole beside the street there is a button pedestrians press when they wish to cross. A happy boy of about age seven years runs along the sidewalk, pushes the button, turns, run back and joyfully leaps into Mom's welcoming lap. Mom is in a wheelchair. One arm hugs her big son: her other hand moves the lever which expertly directs her motorized wheelchair toward the waiting point. With his strong hands her son steadies himself against the arms at Mom's wheelchair. My light turns green and I move on but in my mind I carry the beautiful image of love between mother and child which was expressed in his joyful return to Mom's lap. He is precious to his mother: she is equally precious to him. They both know it they both show it, they both enjoy it.

Two kilometers later the road crosses a bridge over a stream. Nearby beside a small pool in the brook I see a man and a woman. With her right hand she holds a small fishing pole, the line spread onto the pool. Her man stands to her left, near, supportive, but not dominating. They are sharing a moment, he is facilitating her fishing effort. I imagine that he has probably placed his fishing pole on the bank, to give her unencumbered access to the pool. By the way they share the space around them, and the gentle touch I momentarily see I know they are comfortable with each other and important to each other. In my mind I find myself hoping they are precious to each other.

As a Family doctor I have practiced for years an alert perceptivity for evidence of physical illness. A limp, shortness of breath, paleness, signs of discomfort, and many other signs alert the Family doctor to the presence of illness. Also, when listening to the patient's story there is an alertness for indicators of serious disease. Similarly I have practiced an alertness for symptoms and signs of mental distress and of problems with Relationships. Some of these signs are the presence of abnormality: some of them are the absence of normality. The individual's perception of their own degree of preciousness is a key indicator of the health of their mind and Relationships.

That little list I blurted out beside the baby carriage contains five profoundly important items. If we don't consider ourselves good it is probably because we consider ourselves bad. Those who don't consider themselves valuable are at high risk of considering themselves worthless, and may have been taught that by disrespect, neglect, abuse, exploitation and direct harm inflicted on them in early childhood.

Being valuable is different from being precious. You are valuable even if someone else thinks you are not. You are precious if you are valuable in someone else's mind, whomever that person may be. That little five-month-old in the carriage is learning by the behaviour of others that he is precious in his mother's mind, his grandmother's mind and others. Their behaviour and his perception of his preciousness is also teaching him that he is lovable, and is facilitating his capacity to be loving, which at his age is often expressed through a smile that spreads over his entire face and then flows as a wiggle into all his limbs, and as a cooing in his voice. Surrounded by love, his confidence grows, and his capacity to be loving flourishes.

Those who feel precious have an enhanced capacity to grasp the opportunities of life, deal with the obstacles, delight in the joys, and bear the sorrows which are part of the normal human life cycle. Those who feel unloved may have immense capacity to endure, but often suffer from limited capacity to enjoy.

When I heard the friend say the word "precious" the bells it rang in my head were accompanied by the memory of the many tears. I have seen from those who felt unloved and unlovable, and expressed their pain and burden in numerous ways. Many have hated themselves ever since they were hurt in childhood. Helping them learn to love themselves can be a difficult but immensely rewarding experience. That effort to try to help love grow where it has long been absent is very satisfying. It is even more satisfying to see love flourish right from the start of the human journey including in that precious cherub's baby carriage.

Theme: Relationships | Relations

Stories in Family Medicine | Récits en médecine familiale [Internet] Mississauga ON: College of Family Physicians of Canada. 2008 --.




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