Some years ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association published an article by Dr. Paul Ruskin on the “Stages of Aging.” In the article, Dr. Ruskin described a case study he had presented to his students when teaching a class in medical school. He described the case study patient under his care like this:
“The patient neither speaks nor comprehends the spoken word. Sometimes she babbles incoherently for hours on end. She is disoriented about person, place, and time. She does, however, respond to her name… I have worked with her for the past six months, but she still shows complete disregard for her physical appearance and makes no effort to assist her own care. She must be fed, bathed, and clothed by others.
“Because she has no teeth, her food must be pureed. Her shirt is usually soiled from almost incessant drooling. She does not walk. Her sleep pattern is erratic. Often she wakes in the middle of the night and her screaming awakens others. Most of the time she is friendly and happy, but several times a day she gets quite agitated without apparent cause. Then she wails until someone comes to comfort her.”
After presenting the class with this challenging case, Dr. Ruskin then asked his students if any of them would like to volunteer to take care of this person. No one volunteered.
Then Dr. Ruskin said, “I’m surprised that none of you offered to help, because actually she is my favorite patient. I get immense pleasure from taking care of her and I am learning so much from her. She has taught me a depth of gratitude I never knew before. She has taught me the spirit of unwavering trust. And she has taught me the power of unconditional love.” Then Dr. Ruskin said, “Let me show you her picture.”
He pulled out the picture and passed it around. It was the photo of his six-month-old baby daughter.
This story shows us the importance of perspective. And it shows us how essential it is to have all the facts before we make a decision. It reminds us too, that our children have so much to teach us if we will tune in and pay attention.
It also reminds us of the dramatic scene in the Gospel of Luke where Jesus lingers behind as a 12-year-old boy and gets separated from his family for three days. Eventually they find him in the Temple discussing theology with the rabbis.
We can imagine that as Jesus was growing up, his parents taught him many good lessons about life and faith… but imagine, too, the powerful lessons they must have learned from him. Our children and our grandchildren have so much to teach us. Think for a few moments about the great lessons our children and grandchildren are teaching us.
While we try to teach our children about life…Our children teach us what life is all about!