Memorial and Dedication Service

I was asked again to speak at the Memorial and Dedication Service of the three universities at Bonython Hall, February 28, 2007. It commemorates all people who bequeathed their bodies to medical science and dedicates students to the study of anatomy.

My part was to address the students, probably three quarters of the congregation of about 250 people (last year I spoke to the family and friends of donors). Below is a copy of my address.

It was wonderful seeing students taking up my challenge at the end of proceedings. In fact I even saw students and donor families swapping details, new friendships being developed!

A wonderful and very special event!

Last week I visited a miracle worker.

I’ve been visiting her regularly over the last month or so.

She’s a healer.

No drugs are involved. I arrive in pain and I leave feeling like a normal human being again.

She is, of course, my physiotherapist!

I told her about today’s Memorial Service and she told me how invaluable her anatomy lessons were when she did her training: of the way her Professor gathered the class around before they began anatomy classes and they talked about respect for these bodies donated, not just for their sakes as students, but for the whole noble vocation of healing. “How absolutely amazing it was to dissect a human body”, she said, “what a privilege!”

Anyway, I realised then that I too am a beneficiary of this wonderful gift we honour today!

My physio is amazing – but her knowledge and skill have not come easily, but through years of careful study and practice.

But I not only benefit because she knows how my body works – or rather has stopped working! – and she knows what can be done about it; I benefit in another way too!

I am now the recipient of the care and respect engendered by her Professors for the human person throughout her training. There’s much more to healing than just the physical.

As a chaplain my occupation involves listening to people. I have to say I think it’s pretty sad when I hear people report that they went to a doctor and they felt “not listened to”, as though they were just another problem to be “solved”. It seems to be more prevalent between male doctors and female patients. But, in any case, none of us like to be de-humanised in this way. We all need to be treated with respect. The daily news suggests that’s easier said than done!

To the new students – congratulations for making it in! You’re at the beginning of a very challenging stage in your lives.

I have two challenges for you.

As you stand with the scalpel in your hand for your first dissection, you may be overwhelmed with all kinds of feelings. You may be scared stiff that you’ll muck up. Or you may be overcome with a sense of awe and wonder. Whatever your feelings, take note of them. Take the time to decipher these messages. For they are, in the end, as important to learn from as the first cut you make.

Secondly, you might do something for yourself this evening. When our Memorial Service is over, stop for the refreshments provided at the back of the hall. Leave your friends and take the courage to seek out someone from the families and friends of those who have donated their bodies to science – and make yourself known. Don’t worry about what to say. Just say hello, introduce yourself and then wait…listen. I think you will find appreciation… appreciation that you have made the first move…appreciation for the opportunity to meet someone face too face, person to person, who will benefit from their sacrifice. Your gesture of gratitude will not only contribute to salving their grief, it will also enlarge your world, expand your humanity.

This is at the heart of all religion – to take the other into one’s heart and be transformed by it.

Will you accept the two challenges? Make it your habit to take note of your feelings, even if it doesn’t appear in the curriculum. And make it a habit to make the first move, to create the space for the kind of listening that heals.

The candle I light is for you, students and teachers.
The candle brings light and warmth.
At the beginning of this academic year, may our professions and our lives be so.

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