Monday, February 4, 2013

Cap'tivated by Life -- by Josh

Yesterday, while Max was vacuuming his grandma's house, he let out a loud giggle. He looked up at me with a face glowing red and asked, "Have you seen this picture?!"  He giggled some more and ran over to show me. 
It was one of my favorite pictures of his maternal great-grandparents, from a long-ago African safari.  In the photo, there they are, Dr. Bill semi-squatting over a giant pile of elephant dung and June holding out a roll of toilet paper, dying of laughter.  This, to me, spoke a great deal about a wonderful man who I was lucky enough to get to know in the twilight of his life. He was a complex, yet uncomplicated, person.  How such a great man could be so extremely humble is truly beyond me.

Zora and Cap't feeding the birds. Zora was crushed when he passed, but told us that he will always live in her heart.
A few weeks ago, as we rolled up to the homestead from the airport on a freezing winter night, I glanced over at the Captain's house, dark and quiet.  I realized that it was the very first time since I met my wife and her fantastically fascinating family that I'd been at the house and there was no Captain next door.  Many a Sunday night, after we'd finished a cuadri-generational family dinner, I'd gone over to his house to do laundry and shoot the breeze.  His washer took forever, so it was a great opportunity just to hang out and watch 60 Minutes, which always spurred some conversation related to our higher purpose and the absolute necessity of spending our lives helping others.
The time during the healthcare "debate" a few years back was especially interesting.  He had a great perspective on such things, having worked for decades in health care finding ways to help people who most thought beyond assistance.  He was generally so laid back, but when topics such as this (as well as the importance of matrimony and the care and education of children) arose, his fierier side would come out.  He was just indignant that anyone would be denied health care, and he was no idle kavetcher (like yours truly).  Rather, he'd spent his life putting into action all of his ideals, often to his immediate detriment.
People pushed back against his ideas for years, but he was calmly persistent and won people over with evidence, hard-won through much work.  He was not one to be pulled into silly dramas, and so he soldiered on until, by virtue of undeniable proof, those who'd doubted him became supporters.
I had the privilege of accompanying him to a medical conference in San Diego several years ago.  He loved to travel, and shamed me with his simplicity of packing. He was always very practical.
Anyhow, before that trip I'd heard from Rebecca's family about the Captain's work with cochlear implants, and I'd even met a couple of his patients, to whom he'd brought the gift of hearing. Yet I was struck most by seeing how he was treated by the doctors at the conference. Pardon my stereotyping, but generally speaking, world-renowned surgeons are not easily-impressed.  Yet whenever Dr. Bill ran into someone he knew, they bowed before him and lavished him with praise. My favorite such moment was when we were waiting for a session to start and a nice woman offered him her seat.  We struck up a conversation and it turned out she and her friend were from Brazil.  Dr. Bill told her about some of his travels to that illustrious nation, and when she asked his name, she blushed like a school-girl.  "In Brazil, when I was in medical school, one of our required texts was a book about you and your work!"
Dr. Bill, however, was less interested in reminiscing about his past successes and more interested in patient well-being.  He spent the entire week lobbying for a new test he'd developed for screening babies' hearing. Dr. Bill never rested on his laurels.
Yet, like I said, my time with him was in his "retirement", out on the farm.  He simply loved getting visits from his grandkids, and Zora, having a natural proclivity for sitting and talking, adored her Great Cap't Whenever we would spend time at Rebecca's parents' house, Zora would play for a while, then head out the door and down the little sidewalk to her great grandpa's house.  The Captain, after all, really did have the heart of a child with the mind of a genius.  Who else would spot such a hilarious photo-op while on safari?
There are many, many lessons that I learned from this man.  First and foremost, however, is his dedication to serving humanity.  Dr. Bill worked his tail off for many a year, not out of a desire to bolster his ego, but out of a determination to help his patients.  He knew that it would take hard work, and he welcomed such work, and did it astoundingly well.  From him I have learned that it isn't enough just to complain, we have to go out and work tirelessly to improve the world.
I have also learned from his general approach to life.  It strikes me that, much like Abdu'l-Baha asks us to, he walked the spiritual path with practical feet.  He had a deep connection with his Creator and never stopped asking questions, fascinated by the world around.  Yet he also approached problems with an impressive pragmatism, interested more in getting results than in looking a certain way.
The little house down the sidewalk is emptying out now, bit by bit, as the estate sells off things here and there, and my family has inherited a few keepsakes to remind us of him. But, like my sweet Zora said, we will really always keep him in our hearts.
Months before he passed away, as the library plan was percolating in our brains, we'd begun to talk about names.  The one name for the library that kept surfacing involved the Captain, because he was just such a remarkable person.  Then one day, much like the way we named Zora, we just knew. Biblioteca Comunitaria Dr. William House.  An earnest, and hopefully one day deserving, attempt to honor the memory of a man who worked ceaselessly, with a smile, to bring hope and opportunity to all.  We love you Cap't.

No comments:

Post a Comment