I never thought that I would see a ghost but recently I’ve begun seeing them. Later I’ll explain it – but it’s a bit of a delicate subject so I’ll approach it delicately and indirectly.
I don’t know if you believe in ghosts – from the above you know that I do now in reality. But seriously people look at you escance if you talk about seeing a ghost. We usually have a short Bible reading around the table after the evening meal and it often leads into a bit of discussion. At that time we were reading slowly through the book of Ecclesiastes and if you know the book at all you probably remember the word ‘vanity’. It occurs five times in the second short verse and another 29 times in the book. So you wonder what it can be talking about. Maybe it’s talking about the shadowy shades of life after death. But no it is talking about the life we all live every day, this side of any shadowy existence. Thus as one of our sons who still lives at home, is a linguist we started looking at how it was translated in some other languages and then looked up the meaning of the Hebrew word ‘Hebel’, like many words in various languages, a word has to be seen in context and has many shades of meaning. The word seems to mean without substance, vapourish, ghostly and things like that. Interestly the Preacher in Ecclesiastes says that life on this planet is the shadowy, passing, ghostly one – the reality is with God!
Most people would say they don’t believe in that rubbish and would even scoff at the reality of life beyond the grave. And then I hear a cricketer say that they are playing this match dedicating it to their friend Phil who died recently. But when they are running up the pitch for their hundredth run they look heavenward and signal to their friend. To be honest I do believe in persons whom I cannot see, and the reality of what is to come. But this isn’t a sermon, it is to tell you about my real contact with ‘ghosts’.
I’m on a new long acting, slow-release medication which I swallow twice a day. After a successful sit in the loo, you can imagine my surprise on looking into the bowl and seeing the same tablet which I had swallowed earlier. When this happened several other times I wondered how much good the tablets could be doing me. No recovery of them was even contemplated. So I started crushing them and swallowing them crushed in jam. They tasted terrible and gave me a very troubled stomach. So a look in Dr Google explained that I was looking at a ‘ghost’ tablet. The medication had been extracted and the frame into which it had been embodied only remained as a ghost. From now on I’ll swallow it whole! If I’d been a physician instead of a surgeon I’d probably have known.
Do you ever watch ‘Morse’ on Television? Have you noticed that the main actor Morse (John Thaw) has a ‘dropped foot’ on the right? As a doctor you tend to spot diseases. And one day I saw this guy standing on the road side.
The gum trees came from Australia.
You can deduce that we are driving on a high plain and in the distance, after a valley unseen for the cloud that fills it, is another mountain range. Going to Jimma from Addis you pass through several mountain range.
The ground looks fertile.
The old man isn’t standing up very straight. His knees are bent and his crutches don’t go up to fit nicely under his arms.
He’s obviously thumbing a ride. I can’t see a house anywhere near, and he is not at a designated bus stop. So I wonder how long he’s waited and to where does he want to go. It’s a long hard walk to any clinic in the area.
Either he’s got a bad medical practitioner who doesn’t know how to set up his crutches correctly or he’s got some nasty orthopaedic problem. His knees are bent; his back is bent over, but if they both were straightened out his crutches would be long way too short. I am most unlikely to know his language as this is a different tribal area. He looks a bit scruffy – see that patch on his knee? He probably has a different scent but most likely BO. I think we could make room for him but the kids would have to be squashed up. We’re in a bit of a hurry, and someone says ‘we’re running late already’. Look carefully – he is human. Wife says ‘well, are you going to give him a ride?’ Should I have?
Following on from yesterday’s post, here are several more Ethiopian proverbs from the list my wife laid on my desk…
A mouse that wants to die goes to sniff the cat’s nose.
When spiders’ webs unite they can tie up a lion.
A house can’t be built for a rainy season that is past.
The person who grew up without correction shall find his mouth slipping instead of his foot.
No explanation comes with them but I think the meanings are pretty universally understood. I just imagined, after maybe a family evening dinner or sitting around a BBQ on the weekend, putting them up for a family discussion. Sadly our kids are all grown up and flown the coop, but with them as late pre-teens or teenagers I think we could have had some interesting discussions.
I have been told that there is a tribe in South America which has 40 words to differentiate shades of what we might, in a single word, describe simply as ‘green’. And in a country without sign posts they use these shade words to direct people on forest paths. For example travel on the path for …. (distance) until you see a tree of …. (shade of green) then turn left. in about …. (distance) you will see a bush of …. (shade of green) there turn right. etc – you get the idea. No doubt this has worked well for centuries and still does, but what a mess a traveller would be in if someone purposefully substituted the word for a different shade of green.
I looked up ‘shades of green’ on google search and the list is long and interesting. Usually just saying green is enough but sometimes we need to be more specific. And this applies to many other words. And we can get into or cause trouble by unintentionally or intentionally using a shade of meaning which the speaker or author didn’t intend. There are about a million words in the English language but I am told that the average word usage of the common person is only in the thousands – 10 to 20,000. I looked up the word ‘guilty’ in google search. This is part of what I read…
culpable of or responsible for a specified wrongdoing.”he was found guilty of manslaughter” Similar: culpable, to blame, blameworthy, blameable, at fault, in the wrong, responsible, answerable, accountable, liable, censurable, reproachable, condemnable, reprehensible, erring, errant, delinquent, offendings, felonious, iniquitous, criminal, convicted, peccant
justly chargeable with a particular fault or error.”she was guilty of a serious error of judgement”
conscious of, affected by, or revealing a feeling of guilt.”he felt guilty about the way he had treated her “Similar: ashamed, guilt-ridden, conscience-stricken, remorseful, sorry, regretful, contrite, repentant, penitent, rueful, abashed, shamefaced, sheepish, hangdog, mortified, discomfited, distressed, uncomfortable, in sackcloth and ashes, compunctious. Opposite:unrepentant
Let us say that the little baby pictured above died. That is not true, he did very well after his emergency surgery. He recovered quickly and was sent home well, but with a lot of growing up to do. But picture this scenario: –
He came in with an obstructed gut. He was operated upon and the condition corrected. On being woken up from his anaesthetic he vomited, inhaled his vomitus, but after that treated well according to the book but over the next 24 hours dies. A distraught parent accuses me of killing the baby and says that they hope I feel well and truly ‘guilty’. Should I feel guilty? I had made the correct diagnosis and done the right operation. My name was still on the end of the bed as the responsible surgeon. I had seen him and ordered several things post operatively. I was not the anaesthetist. Measures should have been taken by the anaesthetist to reduce the risk of him vomiting to a minimum, which he did not take. But I was by then in a side room writing up the case record. The mistake having been made I raced back into the operating room and did all I could to correct the situation.
But that accusation is that I have killed him and should feel guilty. I don’t think that it is fair to say that I have killed him, even if in a court the lawyers would have tried hard to push that all the responsibility of the anaesthetist fell back on me as the team leader so….? Now coming to the guilty word I have to confess that maybe I should feel guilty. I’ve seen that anaesthetist make similar mistakes before and because it was after midnight and I was tired I chose to do what was legal but maybe not wise i.e. do the rest of my legal paperwork and hopefully get home to bed. I had previously spent time on several occasions explaining the right way and watched him through several operations. I had since then stayed in the room on several occasions making sure that he did the waking up procedure correctly. But he was still relatively inexperienced. Because of the hour should we have waited until the morning, accepting that he may have died overnight and would certainly have been medically worse by the next day. If everyone had rested he might have lived and grown up to be a healthy man.
Would that label me guilty? I understand why the parents did, and I have to struggle hard to say that I bear no guilt. But I reject that I should feel guilty of murdering him or even of having done the wrong thing. Surely there must be a synonym in there for my feelings at this moment. Blameable? – but surely it is not my responsibility to do someone else’s work correctly. Ashamed? – because in the world there is such inequity between what we have in my home country cf my adopted land. Remorseful? – that I didn’t stay in the operating room until the child was wide awake. But then I knew that the post-op care workers often slept on their duty time – so should I have watched him overnight? Am I to bear the whole weight of the medical inadequacies on my shoulders.
Often when I use a word I have to depend on my reader/hearer to discern the context into which I am using it. It is not easy for the user or the recipient of a word to be sure of the correct meaning and I guess we have to settle for being honest, generous and understanding in our assessments.
The picture below is the one on the front of my autobiography. It was taken in the mid 90’s in Soddo, Ethiopia. I developed a fairly close relationship with the boy who is walking with me. He was deaf and dumb. There was a blind school nearby but he wasn’t blind. There wasn’t anywhere near to help him. In my early days there before we got a vehicle, I often walked past his home going between our home and the hospital. If only I hadn’t had an already heavy schedule…. but had the chance to meet the family and know more about him. I got to hear his story from the workers and did my best to be a friend to this little guy isolated in an overpopulated area inside his silent world. So we’d walk together sharing a chocolate bar, pointing out things that interested us, but sadly absolute silence. If only we’d known ‘signing’ …. Our home was about a kilometre beyond his and when I was walking home he’d walk with me but then after a while suddenly break off and run home to his area of safety.
Then we bought an old 4WD and as I drove past he would climb up on my knee and steer for maybe half a kilometre before tapping my arm to stop, hop out and run home. I think that either his playmates indicated that I was coming or he, being deaf and dumb, appreciated the vibrations from the car transmitted through his feet. At any rate it was rare for me not to see him coming to the side of the road, waiting for me as I drove past. When we left Soddo one of the saddest things was leaving him. He did not have an intelligence problem, and hopefully as things progress medically in the land, he will get help. If only I’d been able to find an appropriate school…
I did meet him again several years later when I visited the Soddo area again. He ran up to me with a very broad smile but scratching himself all over. He was covered with scabies. The diagnosis was easy and the treatment relatively cheap, but not all that easy, as it involved bathing and washing clothes. Having worked there just a few years earlier I quickly worked out how much to get him seen, and medicine ordered, then added a little for inflation and gave it to one of the hospital staff to sort out. I was told that after I had left the pharmacy had been privatised and costs adjusted (in)appropriately. Thus the money which I was offering was now insufficient to even get him a card to be seen. I added more, but had to leave and am not sure who prospered from my money, the boy or the one sent on an errand. If only I’d been able to stay and look after him myself….
Life has so many ‘if only‘ situations. You’d go mad if you held onto them too tightly.