“The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts.”  I can’t remember who wrote those words but they are part of a poem I learned in school more than 60 years ago.  I recalled them recently when reading a historical novel by Ken Follett entitled Wings of Eagles. It is a story of the rescue of two American businessmen who had been imprisoned in Iran without trial, around the time of the famous American Hostage Crisis.


The president of the company, Ross Perot, is determined that he will not desert his two friends and employees.  Having tried every legitimate means, and having received very little co-operation from people in high places in the U.S. Government, he decides, at tremendous risk, to organize a rescue tea.  Sitting alone in his Dallas home his mind goes back to his father, who was a man of great loyalty to his friends, irrespective of their colour or social position.  Follett writes, “Another of his father’s principles was, ‘take care of the people who work for you.’  Ross could remember the whole family driving twelve miles on Sundays to visit an old black man who ‘had used’ to mow their lawn, just to make sure he was well and had enough to eat.”  Ross was about 12 at the time and he is now in his sixties.  But he knew that it was the example of his father’s loyalty that inspired him to “not to count the cost” in his efforts to free his friends from their plight.

The things we forget

If you are still with me, you may be wondering where all this is leading.  Well I am writing the height of the Doctors’ Strike and when I read the above quoted sentence my memory skipped backwards over something like 67 years.  I saw a small boy (myself) looking out the window of an Irish farmhouse and watching a man on a bicycle coming through the gate.  As we say in Ireland, “The Heavens had opened and the rain was falling in bucketfuls.”  The man with the bicycle was the local “Country Doctor.”  He had cycled some seven miles in the rain to visit my young sister, who had a fever.  I was about six at the time but somehow the drenched figure burned into my mind this conviction, “A doctor is somebody who will do everything possible – even at great personal sacrifice – to be with his patients when they need him.”  Of course I could not have formulated it like that.  But that is what it meant to the receptive mind of a child.

Through the Years

And that assessment of the doctor as a man of duty has traveled with me through the years.  As a pries in Africa I always worked closely with the doctors in the “bush” hospitals and I can never remember one – over a period of 30 years – who “let the side down.”  I can see, even now, a young English doctor – with no religion – standing in the burning sun at 2 p.m. every day while an endless queue of Africans came one by one to voice their physical ills.  An African nurse translated them into English.  He couldn’t learn the language but his patience never wavered as he treated each one as if he or she was the only person in the world.  He used to laughingly say to me, “I’ll look after their bodies, Father, and you can look after their souls.”  In fact, without realizing it, he looked after both!  If there could be such a thing as a “secular” priest, that was my definition of the doctor.

A fallen idol

But this ideal of the doctor as “a man apart” in the natural sphere, as a priest is “a man apart” in the spiritual sphere, it now lies in pieces at my feet.  It was not because the doctors went on strike.  They probably had a just cause, I am not competent to judge.  No, it happened to me one evening while I was watching the news on television.  The picture showed a hall full of doctors – representing the medical profession of Ontario – applauding loudly when it was announced by the Chairman that emergency wards in several hospitals would be closed down on the following day.  Something died inside me!  The only comparison I could think of would be an official body of priests applauding the announcement that dying Catholics would be refused the Last Rites of the Church.  In other words, the betrayal of a vocation!


We all have rights and we have a right to defend our rights.  But there is such a concept as “proportion.”  If the neighbours infringe on our rights by making a hole in the adjoining fence or by allowing their dog to trespass or by parking car in our driveway, there are certain ways in which we can react.  But we will not – I hope – shoot their dog, burn down their house, smash their car or beat up their kids.  Such actions would be out of proportion to the undoubted wrongs they have inflicted on us.

I believe there were various methods the doctors could have employed in order to express their strong disapproval of Bill 94.  they could have made things very inconvenient for the Government and the public without endangering the health and the lives of their fellow human beings.  Their heartless action has left a scar on the face of a noble profession – a scar that will still be visible when the children of today become the parents of tomorrow. “The thoughts of youth are long, long thoughts!”