01 June 2008


Sunset over Mamba Point
Augustus was dressed in black when he walked into the admissions tent. Odd, since we were not in New York City, but then who am I to comment on Monrovian fashion? I had made a remark to a patient several weeks ago about his slick black outfit, only to be reprimanded that it was actually navy blue and his metrosexual digs were appropriate to his profession as a tailor. So I let the observation slide.

Augustus's story was fairly typical of the patients we see. In 2003, he was a passenger in a motor vehicle accident. After the accident, he went to JFK, Monrovia's biggest hospital, and was given only tylenol for a right humerus that had snapped in half. He did not get an x-ray nor was he casted, and fortunately for him it was a closed fracture, meaning that the broken bone had not pierced the skin. His arm healed, although the bone had healed unfused, in what we term "non-union of the humerus." He was lucky in that he was neither a farmer nor a mason but rather an economist, which meant that despite having a permanently broken arm he could still write and therefore he could work.

As we chatted about his medical problems and such, I began to ask him if there was any history of illnesses in his family. "My son died yesterday, and I am in mourning," he said. Augustus Jr. was in the 10th grade, a miracle by any measure in Liberia, where I have only met a handful of people who have progressed beyond the 6th grade. On Friday, Augustus Jr. stepped on a nail on the way to school. He was brought to the local hospital and given some antibiotics and had his wound cleaned out. On Sunday, August Jr. was dead. "Tetanus," Augustus told me. Because of the war, vaccination programs had ground to a halt and many children had fallen through the cracks.

As Augustus spoke to me, tears welling in his eyes, I was struck by something. He was neither bitter, though he had every right to be, nor was he emotionally detached. He firmly believed in a benevolent God, who was watching out for him and who knew what was best. It occurred to me that perhaps faith is just as important as clean water or a bed to sleep on, because faith makes the intolerable tolerable. Western donors are never going to have pockets deep enough to fix the problems caused by civil war or natural disasters. Furthermore, even though foreign aid workers like to throw around terms like "sustainability" and "cost-effectiveness," very few projects ultimately are. If, however, we can offer the sort of faith that Augustus had, faith that on the one hand costs nil in terms of resources yet is also impossible to purchase with any earthly currency, then perhaps we have made a lasting difference.

I read recently a quote from Martin Luther:
"Faith is a living, well-founded confidence in the faith of God, so perfectly certain that it would die a thousand times rather than surrender its conviction. Such confidence and personal knowledge of divine grace makes its possessor joyful, bold, and full of warm affection toward God and all created things—all of which the Holy Spirit works in faith. Hence, such a man becomes without constraint, willing and eager to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer all manner of ills, in order to please and glorify God, who has shown toward him such grace."

Augustus had this sort of faith that Luther describes, and I thought rather wistfully that I would like to have it too.

1 comment:

Rae said...

This (like many of your posts) is poignantly beautiful. Thank you.