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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Your own individual demons

Now that I'm at another starting point in my dealings with the world of publishing, I thought that this might just be the right time to introduce you to one of the underlying characters in my trilogy. For a bit of background I would refer you to one of my older posts (Jan 5, 2013 - Paracelsus, and The Book of Drachma), in which I expounded on one of the historical people whose life and writings I used to infuse my own characters with a sense of history. For those of you who do not know, Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, better known as Paracelsus was a real 16th century physician, who traveled about Europe teaching, writing and generally creating a nuisance - but who also laid down the foundation for medicine to move beyond antiquity.

But there is another real person whose life influenced the characters who appear in my book. If you look at the dedication page to my first book, Laminar Flow, you'll find it was dedicated to the memory of Hale Henry Cook, MD. Hale was born January 4th, 1918, in Boston, MA. He was born into a family of some renown. His own father was the fifth generation physician in the family, and was a rising star in the specialty of pathology, and would eventually settle in New York state. Now, as a youth, Hale was an exceptional student, and was pushed by his parents to exceed and excel in school, and was able to enter Cornell University at the tender age of sixteen.

Two things happened to Hale in his youth, which became influential in his development. The first was the death of his younger brother, Jack, who died in a freakish bicycle accident, when he and Hale were playing outside, and Hale had just angrily "told him off." The second was meeting Allan Gleason in high school. Allan and Hale became inseparable friends, and each would influence the other throughout life.

It was at Cornell, where the two of them, both young and nerdy to the core, and both outcasts by virtue of their own inability to fit in, where Hale and Al found that they were able to rely on one another's friendship to sustain them. It was also at Cornell, where Hale and Al each developed their own ways of being separate, but inseparable. Al had decided to pursue linguistics, and also the ministry, where Hale, being the dutiful son decided to go to medical school (Harvard). It was either in his junior or senior year at Cornell, when Hale got into a canoeing accident, and woke up to find himself on dry ground, never knowing how he got there, and thanking God for saving his life. Now up until this time, Hale had not even considered that God might even be a factor in his life. He grew up in a very secular home, where matters of religion were never discussed. But with Al to discuss his newly found faith with, it became apparent to Hale that his path might have been chosen for him. He did attend Harvard medical school, in keeping with his father's approval, but then, when he told his father that he intended to become a missionary, he was cut off from the family, particularly his father, who disowned Hale.

One of the traits that I have discovered particularly useful in getting through life as a physician is stubbornness. And it was this trait which carried him forth on his journey. He had now met Doris Deline, got married, went through internship, a surgical residency, a bachelor of divinity degree (while doing his surgical residency) - all the while keeping in close contact with Al Gleason - and he now felt ready for what the mission field in India had to offer him. So in 1947, Hale and his small family, which included his new child, Stephen, set off for India.

It was in India where Hale found his own path, and felt the gentle guiding hand of God. This was despite troubles too numerous to count, which included the fact that his wife, Doris, died in childbirth, delivering a dead, malformed baby. And also included the ravages of poliomyelitis affecting his new family, including two of his children (my younger sister and me), which required an unexpected furlough in the States. During this time, he got his Masters degree in Public Health at Harvard. While on furlough, Hale tried to make contact with his father, but to no avail.

In any event, it was back to India we went, at first to the town of Satara, and then to the village of Vadala, where Hale set up programs in Leprosy control, TB control, family planning, nutrition and sanitation, as well as general medical outreach. This, while raising his ever-growing family, with his wife, Margit. Beset with health concerns again, we made another trip back to the U.S. for furlough, where he now again tried to contact his father. Eventually, after years of separation, his father (now recovering from a heart attack, and clearly dying) did agree to finally make peace with his son.

It was some years later, back in the States, after another five year stretch in India, when I sat down with Hale to talk over my own plans for medical school, and it was during this conversation, that I got some insights into the mind of this gentle, tolerant and loving man whom I had known simply as Dad. It came up that Al Gleason had written a book, which has been used as the standard textbook of linguistics in colleges across the US, including the college I attended, and how that must have brought him lots of fame and money. My dad, in his quiet way, then pointed out to me that Al and Fran Gleason's daughter had not been right since childhood, and they had to care for her, and she could not live alone independently - and what a burden that must be for them. He said that we each must bear our own burdens - that none of them are at all alike, and any of them can turn into demons, if we let them, but which are still our own individual demons. His had been the guilt that accompanied the tragic death of his brother, which he still felt he had "caused." His father's had been his disowning of his eldest son, and the lack of family that caused. So, he said, you have no right to be jealous of anyone's life, for each life is a gift, and with it comes the responsibility of learning to manage your own demons.

So, as you read of Bob Gilsen's exploits and foibles, just remember some of the fertile imaginative soil from which he sprang.

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