by Troy Chapman
The other day I saw the doctor here. I’d had another 10-pound weight drop and when the nurse noted it she was concerned and made the appointment. When I talked to the doctor, however, he refused to discuss this or any other problems I was having. As far as he was concerned, I was there only for my “chronic care” appointment, which is a quarterly checkup they keep me on because I have a heart murmur and an irregular heartbeat. When I told him I thought the weight loss was connected to some chronic infection he said, “I’m not concerned about that.” When I told him I thought I had an ear infection as part of this systemic thing, he looked annoyed and said, “I’m not supposed to do this…” then picked up the little light, looked in my ears and said they had wax in them.
Thinking about this later, I understood that it was an expression of his allegiance. This man defines himself as a doctor, but certainly not as a healer. And even his definition of himself as a doctor is qualified. He is a corporate doctor, and by this definition his first allegiance is not to his patient, nor to healing as an art but to the corporate prison medical system and the profit margin.
We all have various roles that define us in life, but the clincher, the thing that locks it all into a certain pattern, is what we put first and swear our greatest allegiance to.
This doctor, for instance, is human, white, male, a doctor, an American, a corporate medical system employee, maybe a Christian or an atheist, etc. If he puts his whiteness first, all these other things lock into a certain pattern. We get different patterns if he puts his humanness, his maleness, his American-ness, or his religion first. In this case, from what I observed, he’s put his status as a corporate healthcare worker first and everything else comes second to that.
I’ve been a prisoner all of my adult life and this might seem like a big part of who I am. But in my mind, it’s not. Neither is the fact that I’m white, American, male, rural or Christian. None of these things come first on my list of allegiances because I’ve chosen to put “human” and “healer” up there at the top. This changes everything that comes after it. My Christianity, for example, is a path I follow as a human being and a healer. Neither am I a prisoner, but rather a human being and a healer who happens to reside in prison. My status as prisoner is defined by what I put first, what I give my first allegiance to.
The crazy thing about this is that no one can stop us from defining ourselves however we choose in spiritual terms. Many people want me to be a prisoner and a murderer above all else and they try hard to stick that label on me. Others want me to define myself as a Christian first, and some talk to me about how Islam and other religions are wrong and are “out to get” us. They talk about our obligation as Christians to advance Christianity. Racists want me to be white first; many Americans want me to be American first; many liberals want me to be liberal first. Mostly this isn’t because they care about me and other people but because they care about their cause and want to use me to increase their body count and their power. But all I have to do is say, “No thank you, I’m a human and a healer first.”
It’s a simple act that has radically transformed my life. It determines how I treat other people, how I think about the world, how I approach problems and conflicts, and how I choose to spend my time from day to day.
And this has nothing to do with competence or ability. There are many people who are better humans and better healers than I am if such comparisons make any sense in the first place. But that’s not the point. These things are not about external performance but internal focus. They’re about what I’m pursuing, the idea I’ve set up for myself.
I say this because some people might think I’m claiming some special ability or calling. Or they may look at themselves and say, “I have no ability as a healer so that must not be who I am.” But this isn’t right thinking. To me, saying, “I am a healer” means that I choose to stumble down a path where half the time I don’t have a clue. This definition of myself just tells me what questions to ask, what general direction to head in. After that, it’s about doing the best I can, figuring it out as I go. I only know that this is what I value and what I want more of in the world, so I am taking Rumi’s advice and trying to be what I love.
I look around and ask myself what if prison guards define themselves first as healers and second as correctional employees. What if prosecutors, prisoners, businessmen and -women, medical professionals, lawyers, judges, teachers, writers, musicians, TV producers and blue collar workers, Democrats and Republicans, Christians and Muslims, all did the same and put “healer” in front of whatever else they do and are?
I’ll leave you with that question. And this one: of all the roles in your life, what do you really put first? What do you swear first allegiance to and does this actively reflect your highest values?
Painting by Troy Chapman