Pretending the world is homogeneous is a dangerous path

I was at work a few nights ago. We had had a patient death early in the morning before I got there, and the body was still in the room awaiting the JP’s arrival. The family was en route back with the children (he was only 57) and the body was not presentable. Blood, saliva, a gaping mouth and lividity with rigor were a bad combination for the kids to see. I and a tech got him cleaned, covered, and propped the head into a bit of flexion to relatively close the mouth (a trick he’d learned in EMS days). The family returned soon and the cries and calls for “Daddy” were heartbreaking.

Later that night the riots and protests were in the news, and I was thinking how sad it is we’ve come to this point of division over politics and not unity as Americans. I wrote the following on my Facebook page:

I’m at work tonight, and I’ve seen … people. Not liberals, conservatives, Democrats or Republicans, but simply people. Black people, Mexican people, Pakistani people, young people, old people, sad people and angry people. It’s pretty damned amazing what a handshake and legitimate concern for their condition mean to folks. We are people, nothing more.

And we will all die, trust me. You should watch someone do it sometime. Or better yet, pronounce someone dead and then look the family in the eye and tell them their loved one won’t be going home tonight. Stand in the room and listen to the wails pierce your eardrums and heart. Let a devastated mother pound your chest and say, “No!”, a few hundred times. Do all that enough, and you’ll be punched by every color, creed, sex, and religion imaginable and you’ll realize that it all feels the same no matter the source.

For about ten years, I was terrified of this situation, but slowly I found that in that moment, there is a wonderful colorblindness and singular minded purpose that affirms the common denominator of love and the sanctity of life that we so wantonly toss about on a daily basis.

So why are we wasting our precious time above ground trying to drive each other into it? Do you really want to be a label? Are you that desperate for meaning that you cling to some nebulous “one size fits all” value set? Who in their right mind wants to be externally defined? Why do we teach our children free thinking and foster creativity if we cannot exemplify it? Are you better than your neighbor because of your color, god (or lack thereof), political party, sexual orientation, favorite color, how much you make … you see how petty it is by now?

If so, you’re the problem and pretending the world is or should be homogeneous is a very dangerous path that’s easy to find because it’s the one with all the morons in white hoods walking it with you. Aren’t you proud now? Jesus, just enough of the hate and gloating. One day you may be working beside the same guy you’re screaming at right now and won’t that be awkward? The sun came up 11/10, we kissed someone goodbye and went to work or school. It will come up tomorrow.

Meanwhile, I will be working with my colleagues that include black men, women, Latinos and even this old white guy who will take care of any and all like they are family because in the end, they, and we, are.

The dead father I mention above was Pakistani and Muslim; but really, just a fellow human who deserves the same respect any of us would want in that situation.

James Nichols is an emergency physician.

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