When my son was a year and a half he came down with a stomach flu. After a couple of days the vomiting and diarrhea had calmed down, but he was quiet and listless. I wasn’t terribly worried but something told me to take him to the clinic, so I did. His doctor examined him in the little bright-lit room the same way I had grown used to, with calm and gentleness. I trusted this doctor completely and instinctively the minute I met him. He was older, small and lean, with wise eyes.
“I feel kind of dumb bringing him in,” I said, “but I just wanted to make sure.”
The doctor nodded. “It’s good you did bring him in,” he said.
Then he went to the phone on the wall and called the hospital and asked them to reserve a room, that my son and I would be there shortly. I looked at him in bewilderment.
“The hospital?” I said, and he nodded. “Well, okay. I’ll go home and pack some clothes and”–but he shook his head. “Go now,” he said, gently. “Dehydration.”
So I went. And waited while the nurses and doctors sought to find a vein in my little boy’s small body, and then sat beside him for a couple of days while the i.v. dripped life-giving liquid into him. It was like watching a half-dead green plant revive. It took me a little while to realize that my baby had not been far from losing his life. I remembered how the doctor had pinched up the skin of his tiny belly, and how it had just stayed pinched up. I remembered how the doctor had gone immediately to the phone on the wall.
This doctor retired from active practice when my children were still small. Last week, for no known reason, the image of him flashed into my mind and I wondered where and how he was. It had been 20 years. Then, not two days later, I walked into my neighborhood bookstore to give a reading from my new novel, Never Coming Back, and just inside the door, there he was. He was older, still lean and small, still with those calm, observant eyes. He had seen that I was giving a reading, and he wanted to come. There was a lump in my throat as I hugged him.
That man is the kind of person that makes me think of this beautiful poem, one of my favorites, by Naomi Shihab Nye.
– Naomi Shihab Nye
The river is famous to the fish.
The loud voice is famous to silence,
which knew it would inherit the earth
before anybody said so.
The cat sleeping on the fence is famous to the birds
watching him from the birdhouse.
The tear is famous, briefly, to the cheek.
The idea you carry close to your bosom
is famous to your bosom.
The boot is famous to the earth,
more famous than the dress shoe,
which is famous only to floors.
The bent photograph is famous to the one who carries it
and not at all famous to the one who is pictured.
I want to be famous to shuffling men
who smile while crossing streets,
sticky children in grocery lines,
famous as the one who smiled back.
I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous,
or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular,
but because it never forgot what it could do.
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