I was standing outside the ESPNZone at Downtown Disney in Anaheim talking to some friends after dinner when up walked a young man with a sweet, silly grin. Recognition was delayed by the unexpected context but within a few seconds I realized who he was. He was a long term patient, a young man of about 19 who had been my patient since he was just an infant. The fact that he said, “Hi Doctor Barrett!” made recognition easier.
I greeted him with a hug and a “good to see you!”
He hung around for a few minutes, as did his grin, before he said good-bye and returned to his work. We didn't say much to one another, but the brief interaction was special to me.
What was special to me was how obvious it was that he was genuinely glad to see me. My friends could tell from his smile and demeanor that I was someone he considered important and that he thought it was pretty cool that he ran into me that night. I was touched by the realization that over the course of 18 years and less than a dozen office visits I had managed to have such an impact on his life.
I thought back to one of his recent office visits. I don’t recall what the reason was for him coming to the office but I do remember what we talked about other than medicine. He is a young man who has faith and we talked about his girlfriend and his relationship with her. We talked about moral purity and honoring God in life. I was not sure at the time if he welcomed the discussion but the joy he displayed at our unexpected meeting told me that the conversation had been well received.
Recent events have increased the significance of that night and what it said about our relationship with one another. I have heard and read many things about how Christian people of my generation need to reach out to and connect with the younger generation. Usually the conversations center on styles of dress, music preferences and other external issues.
What strikes me about my young patient is how unimportant all of those things are. I am 35 years older than he is and usually wear slacks, a well-ironed shirt and a tie. He wears casual clothes appropriate for his age. I do not even know what kind of music he listens to. So what created the bond between us?
I think it was genuine caring, true affection.
For most of his life I have cared for him and about him. I care about his spiritual and physical health, care enough to ask him about it and enough to encourage him to be a better person. I have been genuine in the words I use, the way I say them and the manner in which I have cared for him, and he has responded in kind.
Something to think about when we talk about developing relationships across generations. I am wondering, if in our desire to connect with younger people we are missing something important-that what is inside our hearts matters far more than any of the external qualities we typically use to define and categorize one another.
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