Saturday, October 23, 2010

The work of our hands

Korla and I were talking the other day about work we've done and work we've loved. She said that when she was writing her college thesis and working she spent whole long and tiring days in front of a computer screen, but what she really loved was making theater sets, making something you could touch and see at the end of the day's work. It's the same for me: I do a lot of my work in front of the computer, but I feel more engaged, more complete, more myself when I'm cooking or gardening.

That conversation tugged at me, and I remembered the visible joy our PazSalud doctors have in doing hands-on medicine - touching, looking, listening, asking questions - old-fashioned physical medicine without the computers and machines and tests available that are so much a part of their life as doctors in the United States (that's Dr. Anne Welch in the photo from our 2010 medical mission). Those machines and tests are amazing tools, and so is my computer, but there's a hunger we begin to feel when we've spent too much time in front of the screen and away from real bodies, real substances, real work. That's the kind of medicine Dr. Abraham Verghese, author of the astonishing novel Cutting for Stone and chair for the theory and practice of medicine at Stanford teaches: the old-fashioned and necessary arts of the physical exam and hands-on medicine.

Handwork - building theater sets, making quilts, practicing yoga, gardening, making music, drawing, tending patients - seems to me essential to our sense of well-being, of being human. The work of our hands is real work - messy, essential and holy.

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