Joseph was fascinated by human anatomy. Not in the usual way of teenage boys, who preferred to study their anatomy in the form of girls. No, Joseph liked to see the ways the body fit together, all the veins and nerves and muscles and bones and ligaments working in harmony as if…as if there were a master plan. He wasn’t sure how a master plan related to life, his life anyway, but it was reassuring to see how it worked in bodies.
Having been granted rare permission from his parents and the church bishop to finish high school instead of dropping out at age sixteen like the rest of his Amish community, Joseph gobbled up all the learning he could. What he was going to do with it after he returned to farming, he didn’t know. He tried not to let that worry submerge his joy in learning.
“Joe, my dad wants to talk to you,” Patty said just before the last class of the day.
“Sure, but I’ve got to get home, though,” Joseph said. Curiosity about what Patty’s father wanted vied with the knowledge that his Pop would be waiting for him to help in the fields. Joseph was careful not to do anything to jeopardize his privilege.
“I’ll take you home after. You’ll get there faster than if you took the bus,” Patty said. She was right about that; the school bus stopped dozens of times on its circuitous rural route to his farm.
Patty’s father was the town’s doctor. Joseph had met him a few times when he’d stolen an hour at Patty’s house. He’d felt so intimidated by the house itself – Television! Telephones! Electric lights! – that it almost cancelled out his shyness at meeting the doctor, who was the local demi-god of learning and authority.
“Call me Doc,” he’d said, which was nice and friendly, but hard for Joseph to do.
Joseph knew that Dr. Lanahan could easily have forbidden his daughter to date an Amish boy, and he was grateful for the older man’s tolerance. Joseph and Patty were the oddest couple at their high school. She was smart and funny with all the resources that money and a good home provide. The world lay open to her like a present. Joseph was an Amish kid with his life tightly circumscribed: marry an Amish girl, live on a farm, have as many children as God sends. And yet, Patty said she loved him and Joseph knew for sure he loved her. The culture divide was another one of those problems with no solution that he tried not to think about.
When he and Patty walked into her house after school that day, they found Dr. Lanahan gulping a cup of coffee in the kitchen. There were still cars in the parking lot of his office next door so Joseph knew he’d left patients waiting. Dr. Lanahan came straight to the point.
“Joe, Patty tells me you’re a bright kid, especially in science. Is that a special interest of yours?”
“Yes, sir, uh, Doc. I love it, especially as it relates to how the body works and what can go wrong with it.”
“Have you ever considered a career in the medical field?
“Oh, no,” Joseph laughed a little. “My Pop expects me to work with him after I finish school. That’s what Amish boys do. Well, you know that.”
“Is that what you want to do?”
Joseph paused, searching for an honest answer that wouldn’t be disrespectful to his parents. “I guess if I had the choice I’d be interested in medicine, but that’s impossible for someone like me. Even if the bishop said it was okay and my folks wanted to send me to college, there isn’t enough money. And I don’t know if I’m smart enough to make it.”
“You are, Joe, I know you are,” Patty said loyally.
“Here’s what I’d like to propose,” Dr. Lanahan said, with a glance at his watch. He had to get back to his patients. “I’ve had a chat with your principal. He and I agreed that it would be beneficial for you to shadow me for an hour a day. See how you like the actual practice of medicine up close. He’s arranged for you to have a work/study semester to do that if you want to. I’d be glad to talk to your folks about it.”
Joseph glanced at Patty, dumbfounded. He had no words. The vista that the doctor’s words opened up before him was so bright it hurt his eyes. His face must have told its own story, because Dr. Lanahan laughed and clapped him on the back.
“Get back to me on it, Joe,” he said, and then he was out the door and hurrying across the lawn to his office.
Joseph knew one thing: he wouldn’t mention it to his parents.
(To be continued)
Joseph’s story started in my blog post of Feb. 11, 2018, The Sojourner, continuing on Aug. 26, No Time for Sergeants, and Oct. 7, Rumspringa. This is the fourth in a series and is based on a true story.