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March 11, 2014 at 12:32 PMComments: 1 Faves: 0

It's All About Perspective

By Jeffrey VanWingen M.D. More Blogs by This Author

It had been two years since I had visited Palam Colony, one of the biggest slum areas on the outskirts of New Delhi, India.  For some reason I feel a draw to this place.  Maybe it's the warm greetings, the brilliant colors or just the drastic change in culture.  Maybe it's the fact that I feel more potent there in my medical skills compared to the cozy suburban office practice where I spend the rest of my working days.

It was the second day since I set foot in India as I negotiated through Palam's tight alleyways.  As expected, a troop of children scurried around me, most barefoot.  I took in the sights of rudimentary huts built upon huts and daily chores being done on all levels.  Brightly colored laundry hung on ropes spanning the open space above.  Electric cables haphazardly found their ways to transformers screaming "danger!" to my Western senses.

In the haze of jet lag and the enticement of the overhead sights I failed to mind the obstacles at foot-level. With ease, my sandaled foot stepped into the soft muck of a huge pile of sewage pulled and piled from one of the drains at the sides of the alley. "Oh, didn't just..." I thought as my nose confirmed my fear. I looked down and found my right foot covered to the ankle. I couldn't even make out my sandal.

For the last eight years I have visited India several times as a working vacation. I see patients where there is an overwhelming need. Beyond the apparent merits, however, I use these opportunities to look back on my life so far a way to get perspective. It's much like examining a forest while among its trees compared to hovering above, taking it all in. Sometimes this perspective comes readily as I meditate on the pressing issues in my life. Sometimes I just step in it unexpectedly.

Before I could even process my "trauma," my friend Rukhmani who lives in Palam grabbed a bucket of water from a nearby hut and began washing my foot. I looked up to take in the crowd that was observing the spectacle. Right before me at arms reach was an older woman in a blue veil smiling and holding a newborn baby. Perspective hit.

In Biblical times, sandals and dusty terrain left feet dirty. Washing another's feet was reserved for the lowest of servants. In the Bible, examples of washing feet were used to illustrate the greatest humility and love. How great is a friend who would honor and wash the feet of another. In an instant I realized the importance of friendship and the power of humility.

To see such polar beauty in the two faces I beheld as my feet were washed was overwhelming. While one was fresh and new, the other was warn and shaped into her state of beauty. Yes, turmoil and beauty can coexist. And beauty can be found from different perspectives. 

For many, the notion of enjoying life in the midst of strife is a difficult concept to grasp. How can we wrap our minds around appreciating simple and beautiful things while complex problems predominate? My answer to this is that we simply must accomplish this if we are to get the most out of our life and times on this earth. How can we not? Problems will exist no matter what our circumstances. Getting perspective on a deeper meaning and the ongoing positive aspects of our lives can dampen the discomfort of life's challenges and tragedies. There is always something good-- we just have to look for it sometimes.

Live, and live well.

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1 Comment

  • What an awesome story Dr V - thanks for sharing!

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