Back in 1969 I was doing some research in the Indian schools of Guatemala. I found lodging in the village of Cunen in the same rustic house with an American doctor who, along with his wife and a nurse, was donating his time to provide medical services to the indigenous people of the country. I was co-opted into doing some interpreting for them. The natives spoke only a dialect of Maya-Quiche. The doctor would ask a question in English, I would interpret into Spanish and someone else would interpret from Spanish into Quiche. The native would reply in Quiche and the process would be reversed.
A woman who lived in Guatemala City heard that there was an American doctor working somewhere in the remote mountains and decided to track him down. After a long bus ride she arrived in Cunen and sought out the good doctor. She presented the doctor with a whole box full of creams, salves, pills and potions. She said in Spanish, “I have had an infection for years and I have been to all kinds of doctors. They have given me all these remedies and none of them have done any good.” I interpreted his English questions and her Spanish answers.
I could tell that he was puzzled by her symptoms and by the fact that no intervention had been successful. Then, almost as if talking to herself, she said quietly, “I’m always thirsty.” Well, I didn’t know whether or not that was of any significance since she said it to me, it seemed, rather than to the doctor. But, I thought, why not? As soon as I told the doctor what she had said, he perked right up. “Nurse, take this lady and get a urine sample.” He ran a simple test and brightened up. “She is diabetic,” he declared. “We won’t be able to control the infection until we can control the diabetes! I can’t believe after all this time that some doctor hadn’t picked up on it.”
I’m sure that those other doctors had busy practices with many patients to see. But sometimes we let our busyness carry us away until we become like the idols David wrote about: “Eyes have they, but they see not: they have ears but they hear not.” (Psalm 115:5-6.) Failure to keep our priorities in order and to pay attention to the things we value most, making time for them, can result, like the doctors, in our missing them. I guess a prime example of the important items that get pushed aside or taken for granted is the family. And what about our children? They grow each year into new people. If you want to know the pleasures of your five-year-old, this is the year—next year he’ll be replaced by a six-year-old and six is quite a different story.
When that little hand tugs at your sleeve and the tiny voice says, “Can we go swing?” go! Go while the voice is asking, and learn the sheer joy of sunshine and breeze in your hair; hear the music of that child’s laughter while it still rings. When the ten-year-old brings a book to read to you or a model to build, then is the time to set aside whatever keeps you busy and share what might keep you learning and growing and building relationships. When a child asks you to “come and see,” that is the moment to stop and look. When your teenager is ready to tell you all the long details of his or her day, that is the time to listen. If we stop, look, and listen when our children first need us, they will come to us again later. If we don’t, we may join the parents who complain, “My kids never talk to me; they never join the rest of us to do anything together. Our family is falling apart!”
Certainly we want to see that TV program, wash the car, dust the living room, clean off the desk, retype the report; but we need to stop and ask “Why?” If any activity, however worthy, fills up time we could be spending on progress toward our personal goals, it should be scrapped. Life isn’t necessarily more meaningful the fuller we pack it. Sometimes we hurry so fast we miss it all.
The good doctor was in Guatemala to serve the people—all of the people. Since she was not an Indian, he could very well have brushed the lady aside. But he stopped, looked and listened, and her life changed for the better. As Steven R. Covey said, “let’s not get caught up in the thick of thin things.”