24 April 2009

silent mentors

“A young medical student stood in front of a corpse as sobbing filled the operating room. The aspiring doctor, Hsu Jun-k’ai, worked up the nerve to glance at the relatives crying next to him. Tears trickled down his own cheeks. But the surgery wasn’t a failure. It hadn’t even begun.” That’s how an article in Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal began. His tears were inspired by a farewell to eight people who willed their bodies for surgical practice.

This occurred in Taiwan, at the Tzu Chi University’s medical school. Traditional Chinese are extremely reluctant to permit such things to be done to their bodies; they believe them to be gifts from their ancestors. This has caused chronic shortages of cadavers for medical students. Cheng Yen, a 72-year-old Buddhist nun, has appealed to her society at the faith level. She makes the appeal that “society needs you,” and she has incorporated Buddhist belief into the ceremony honoring those whom the students refer to as their “silent mentors.”

Mr. Hsu, the student, spoke of one of his “silent mentors” in this way: “You want the family to understand what we’re doing so they feel part of it. We also learned about Teacher Li Syu. We got to know her as a person.” His class even wrote this poem in her honor:

“Like a warm lantern in our heart,
Like the supple light of the moon,
To embrace you forever
In the fragrance of a flower,
We will remember you forever”

Her daughter said, “This was her will, to let the students learn from her body.” Imagine, medical students referring to a corpse as their “teacher.” We Christians can learn something from the Buddhist concept of compassion. And at the same time, I would humbly suggest (because that’s how we should approach others) that we Christians have something to say about the resurrection of the body. We should respect the body, as part of all of God’s creation. But what we see isn’t the final state; there is a resurrection creation, a resurrection body.

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