Calling Dr. G

Yesterday I found out that a man we will call Dr. G suffered a stroke. He lived, though he has lost a great deal of mobility and his doctors are unsure how much he will recover.

Dr. G had been my mother’s employer for over twenty years and occupied a space in our family that I think few families have, and that is filled by a scant number of people. I have never shared a meal with Dr. G, though he has mussed my hair and gave me a sincere congratulations when I was admitted to university. Though I know the man, I know little of the content of his past. I know that he grew up in the midwest to parents of modest means and played football in his youth. I know that he did not play golf.

Dr. G was a doctor of radiology, and wen I broke my hand he scanned me for free, read my film, and told me I would be fine. He was the kind of doctor that you read about, or that you might hope exists– working around insurance, pulling favors, and making sure that everyone he encountered got he best care he could provide.

But what I associate with him the most was that he taught his technicians, one of whom was my father, how to read films. Undoubtedly this saved him time, as he could get basic reads from the technical staff before giving his diagnosis and recommendation to the referring doctor, but his commitment to educating those he worked with left a major impression. By embracing openness and taking the time to be a teacher he improved his staff’s ability to work with each other, see the bigger picture, and ultimately save lives.

Some readers may be wondering when the Dharma is going to come in– but that is the point I suppose. Aside from being a Buddhist, I think part of having Buddhist culture is being able to see the Dharma, and see Buddhist heroes, in our own lives, and to share them with one another.

Recently, with a temple youth group I teach, we did a day on Buddhist depictions in movies. I showed clips from a couple of different movies, starting with the enlightenment scene from Little Buddha, and then showing bits of things like Shaolin Soccer and Groundhogs Day. One of the points I was trying to get across is that, in many ways, the enlightenment scene from Little Buddha is very ineffective, because it it takes the sutric account by rote. The enlightenment story functions as a story, to be told, and chanted, and remembered, but is not made for film. Then I showed clips from the other movies and we talked about their connections with Buddhism.

One of the youth group members asked me about my Buddhist take on Groundhog’s Day, “So, are you saying that the filmmaker was a Buddhist?”

“No, not necessarily. The movie resonates with many different religions.”

“Well, then you’re saying anything can be a Buddhist movie,” he said, assuming that the truth of that would make my Groundhogs’ assertions less valid. I then explained that, in many ways, that is exactly the point. Buddhist movies are movies that Buddhists watch and walk away with something new.

Today, Dr. G called the imaging center he helped create with his partner decades ago, now owned by a healthcare corporation, and offered his resignation. The extent and duration of his rehabilitation was simply too great. I was told he began the phone call by saying, “I never thought I would have to make this call.”

I’m sure Dr. G imagined that nothing other than the end of his life would put an end to his work. Regardless of its unreasonableness, I think it is an assumption shared by the best of us.

Thanks, Dr. G, for showing me how to be a better teacher. Get well soon.