Biff America: Flaws and scars
I’ve known Rachel for over a decade. She’s an amazing person, but not one whom I have ever enjoyed being around.
To be clear, she’s not mean or selfish — far from it. She is, however, aloof, assertive and sullen. Plus, she doesn’t think I’m funny.
On paper, she is a remarkable woman. Ivy League education for both undergraduate and medical school. Rather than use her degree to gain wealth, she lives a life of selfless service. She travels to Third World countries caring for the impoverished. Though I have no mental health expertise (other than being nuts myself) I will make this diagnosis: She is cursed in that it’s easier for her to provide for strangers than to find happiness for herself.
I also would guess she’s not the president of my fan club, either. We’re not really pals; we just occasionally are thrown together due to a host of mutual acquaintances. Did I mention that she doesn’t think I’m funny?
A little over a year ago, Rachel had recently returned from East Africa, where she brought health care to those who would otherwise never see a real doctor. I can only guess how many lives were improved and how much suffering was prevented.
Soon after returning stateside (and prepandemic), she put on a slideshow as a fundraiser for a nonprofit.
The inspiring images of Rachel and her team caring for the poverty-stricken natives and villagers were powerful. One photo particularly resonated with me. Standing in the middle of a dirt-floored hut, Rachel held a newborn baby just delivered in what I imagined might have been a difficult birth. In the background was the mother, smiling but obviously fatigued.
The beautiful brown child, with a shock of black hair sticking out from the simple blanket, was contrasted by Rachel’s red hair and pale complexion. Absent were the usual pursed lips and frown lines of tension on Rachel’s face. In their place was a beaming smile of pride and relief.
It might have been the sun coming through the thin walls behind her, but she seemed to glow as if she was carved into a plate-glass window.
The image was on the screen long enough to allow me to pull out my phone and take a picture of the photo.
The guy sitting next to me saw me do that and asked to see the image. Turns out, he grew up down the street from Rachel and knew her family. He said, “That photo is amazing! Let’s send it to Rachel’s dad. He hasn’t seen her in over a year.”
Rachel’s father is some kind of uber-businessman, who travels the world making deals and millions. According to this guy next to me, Rachel worships the ground he flies over. After several failed attempts to transfer the picture to the guy’s phone, he wrote down her father’s email address and made me promise to send it to her dad.
Later that night, I sat down and wrote an email to Rachel’s father. I told him that I was asked by a friend of the family to send the photo. I wrote briefly about the slideshow, Rachel’s description of the childbirth and what a wonderful impression the photograph had made on me. I left out the part about how I’ve long considered his daughter a stick in the mud.
Three days later, I received a response from Rachel’s father. He thanked me for the picture and said it caught up with him in Tokyo.
There was no mention of the joy on the face of his glowing daughter. He said nothing in regard to the beautiful baby or the two lives that she helped save.
What he did write to me, a perfect stranger, was, “Looks like we will need to get Rachel a dental appointment for teeth cleaning when she is with us over Christmas!”
I read and reread his response hoping I misunderstood his words. There was little room for misinterpretation. While even the most jaded and cynical of us would look at that photo and see the miracle of life and the magnificence of kindness, her own father saw only stained teeth.
Why is it that we often treat those whom we should love the most with the least amount of compassion? My brief encounter with the man who raised her goes a long way to explaining where Rachel’s demeanor, which once had annoyed me, was born.
Sometimes you need to look closely to see that what you once perceived in people to be faults are in fact scars.
Jeffrey Bergeron’s column “Biff America” publishes Mondays in the Summit Daily News. Bergeron has worked in TV and radio for more than 30 years, and his column can be read in several newspapers and magazines. He is the author of “Mind, Body, Soul.” Bergeron arrived in Breckenridge when there was plenty of parking and no stop lights. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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