The siren caught me by surprise. I was walking around downtown Eilat with three of my friends and classmates, looking for a place to have dinner, when the siren began to wail, a softer, more plaintive sound than the sirens we heard when rockets were coming. People around us stopped walking and bowed their heads. My friends and I realized was was happening, and also stopped walking and stood in silence.
The sun had gone down, marking the beginning of Yom HaZikaron, Israel’s memorial day. I was on my way to a vacation in Petra, Jordan with my friends. (I highly recommend Talie Lewis’s excellent recent posts on both the similarly-observed Holocaust Remebrance Day, and MSIH students’ tendency to travel.) Yom HaZikaron remembers both fallen soldiers and victims of terror attacks, and not being Israeli, I had not expected to have much to remember.
But as I stood there silently, memories began to come back. I volunteered with Magen David Adom in Jerusalem back in 2004, when terror attacks were ever-present. I stood and remembered the patients I had tried to help, and those who had been beyond help. I did not know their names and could not remember their faces. One man, I later learned, was a journalist, fighting against the culture of silence that surrounded the abuse of children in his religious community. Another was the seventeen-year old son of a woman I knew, on his way to school.
This moment of silence brought to mind another day of memorial that I had once observed. While working at a clinic for the homeless in Washington, DC, the staff held a ceremony on the day on the winter solstice and the longest night of the year, to remember the people who had died while homeless in the previous year. The doctors and nurses took turns reading the list of names for the homeless in DC. After each ten names, the reader said “for these we pray” or “these we remember” and we sat there in silence for a moment. Occasionally there was a gasp of surprise as someone learned for the first time that a patient of theirs had passed away.
Both within the context of our Healer’s Art elective, and outside of it, conversations have taken place here at MSIH about the idea that doctors should maintain a professional distance or detachment from their patients, so as to avoid burn-out.
My thought is that there is strength in caring, strength in mourning, and strength in these ceremonies. They reinforce our empathy and our compassion. They touch on what makes us humans rather than automatons. And so, as I study here at MSIH to become a doctor, I hope to continue to care for, to remember, and to mourn, the patients whose lives touch mine, even if only briefly.
May their memories be a blessing.