Although I could write on any number of intriguing ideas presented in Tracy Kidder’s book, the constant return to Paul Farmer’s own character is the most convicting story being told. If you’ve never read Mountains Beyond Mountains, it’s the tale of an American doctor and infectious disease specialist named Paul Farmer, “the man who would cure the world.” Although his work has come under critique by various public health officials and organizations throughout his career, his goal remains the provision of “first-world” medical care to people in the “third world.” Mountains Beyond Mountains chronicles this work in rural Haiti, the slums of Peru, tuberculosis-ridden areas of western Russia, and any number of destinations in between. Again, however, the most surprising narrative that Kidder writes isn’t necessarily the work Farmer does; it’s just Farmer.
“Here was a person who seemed to be practicing more than he preached, who seemed to be living, as nearly as any human being can, without hypocrisy. A challenging person, the kind of person whose example can irritate you by making you feel you’ve never done anything as important, and yet, in his presence, those kinds of feelings tended to vanish. In the past, when I’d imagined a person with credentials like his, I’d imagined someone dour and self-righteous, but he was very friendly and irreverent, and quite funny. He seemed like someone I’d like to know, and I thought that if I did my job well, a reader would feel that way, too.”
Practicing more than you preach. Living without hypocrisy. Making others feel that they can do likewise. I’ve never met Farmer or even talked with anyone who has, but his reputation remains the same. He is a man passionate about justice, about equality in health care access, about the responsibility that the healthy have to the poor. Farmer himself constantly reaffirms his confusion about the general pushback to such a simple idea. The healthy should help the unhealthy; “I mean, everybody should have access to medical care,” says Farmer. “And, you know, it shouldn’t be such a big deal."
There is deep profundity in claiming a simple truth.
Working in the Service-Learning Center is a pretty fluid gig. I have a job description that defines certain expectations and tasks to complete, but the more time I spend working, the more I recognize my position as one centered around the sharing of ideas and not the finishing of a work list. Conversations on the kingdom define my job life. We talk about segregation in our schools and systemic racism in our justice system. We talk about socioeconomic divides and Christ’s call to justly distribute wealth. We talk about ourselves, the fact that we’re college students and professionals from all over the country (and world) and, through such a blessing, have enormous responsibility to actually act through our education and work. We don’t have any answers, but we’re full of questions.
This, too, is a simple truth. I have no idea how long it will take for this country’s terrible racial and socioeconomic divides to pass, and I’m sure that I contribute to them even as I try not to. But talking about the fact that they’re here is much better than hoping they’ll disappear without anyone recognizing they’ve gone. “Everyone deserves justice,” we think and pray. “And, you know, it shouldn’t be such a big deal.” This is an essay of lament because, well, it is. It’s a big deal that the computer I’m typing these words on was pieced together with mineral wealth stolen out of the hands of slaves in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s a big deal that Ukraine is in shambles. It’s a big deal that people have to stand on the corner of the street at 28th and the Beltline to put food on the table.
So let’s practice more than we preach. Let’s live without hypocrisy. Let’s help other people do likewise. You and I are characters in the story of Christ, and that, too, is a pretty big deal.