I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time, only time can help
and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long, difficult repentance, realisation of life’s mistake, and the freeing oneself
from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.
This poem is a powerful expression of the wholistic understanding of illness, and could profitably be used in teaching. “‘I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections. And it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.’ Discuss”; could be a thought provoking and revealing essay question or discussion starter for students and junior doctors!
Any good general practitioner will be well aware that it is indeed ‘wounds of the soul’ that are a significant cause of illness – the bitterness, anger, disappointment, sorrow or jealousy that underlie the development of some serious acute and chronic diseases are familiar daily fare to any doctor who takes the time and trouble to listen to his or her patients.
But what about the ‘certain difficult repentance’ and ‘realisation of life’s mistake’ and ‘freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake.’? Here we are perhaps stepping outside the bounds of conventional medical treatment (although the principal could well be applied to health education – stopping smoking, taking exercise, eating healthily etc – all perhaps ‘freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake’). However it’s clear that the author has in mind a deeper form of ‘repentance’, an attitudinal change that determines the end of selfish self-absorption and the clinging onto past hurts (however real), and a moving forward freely into new and better patterns of life. Rarely perhaps does a doctor have the opportunity to address issues of this depth with patients, although I can certainly remember a few that occurred in my time in practice. Unfortunately our so called ‘developed’ societies have indeed ‘chosen to sanctify’ the ‘endless repetition of the mistake’, promoting as they do through media and advertising all kinds of self-indulgent, selfish and destructive attitudes and behaviours.
It is interesting that Lawrence, who was a novelist, playwright and poet from a poor mining family and totally without any kind of medical training, should so eruditely put his finger on such a crucial and central aspect of illness causation. I have long been convinced that the key to health, as well as to effective medical education, is all about cultivating the right attitudes. That is why PRIME promotes Jesus and His teaching as our best example of teacher and healer, for He consistently demonstrated and taught that it is our attitudes that are key to spiritual (and physical and mental) health, and explained ‘repentance’ as a change of heart and mind that led to a new, unselfish direction. Why not get your students to read and discuss the poem, and see what they make of it?