Recently I returned from a medical conference at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. The title of the conference was “In Osler’s Footsteps.” I had been invited to give an oral presentation entitled “Brokenness and Healing.” For me it was quite an honor to be asked to give a talk in the Osler Library of the History of Medicine, a mere stone’s throw from the resting place of the great physician’s ashes.
During my weekend in Montreal I stayed at a bed and breakfast run by a woman in her mid 50s named Michelle. The morning of my departure, I took a photograph of Michelle seated on the sofa in her parlor. On the wall behind the sofa where she sits there hangs a large abstract painting. Michelle was the artist. Several of her other paintings hang on the walls of her home; some abstract, some more traditional. Michelle studied art history as an undergraduate, and later completed a Master’s equivalency in Fine Arts.
The painting that hangs on the wall above the sofa in her parlor was one of the last paintings Michelle did. That was back in 1985. Michelle no longer paints, because she is blind.
Michelle suffers from a medical condition known as retinitis pigmentosa. This condition is transmitted genetically. If you happen to be the unlucky recipient of this gene, you too will go blind one day. Michelle told me that seventeen members of her extended family have been affected by retinitis pigmentosa. Although never formally diagnosed, her own father was blind when he died. Michelle has two children of her own, a son and a daughter. The son has retinitis pigmentosa. So far her daughter and two grandchildren show no signs of the disease.
When I told Michelle that I had come to Montreal to deliver a presentation on brokenness and healing, she stopped rocking in the chair and sat forward, seemingly intrigued by my words. We are all broken in some way, I told Michelle; yet we do have the capacity within ourselves to experience substantial healing.
Slowly, Michelle nodded her head. “En français on dit la résilience,” she said.
“Oui,” I replied, “la résilience. C’est la même chose.” Resilience—it’s the same in any language.
At one time or another we are all broken individuals, and those of us who are healers become wounded healers. We may not realize this fully at first, yet we can find strength in our woundedness to minister to those suffering individuals who cross our paths every day.