When I was in private practice as a pediatrician, life was always busy, and the days and nights often ran together. I usually found myself in the office late at night, just catching up on paperwork. I found this time alone very peaceful. It allowed me to think about my patients and their problems without distractions. It also allowed for clear thinking about my own life.
One evening, after putting my own family to bed, I was back at the office, going through stacks of charts. As I sat studying a patient’s chart, I heard a knock at the door. I assumed it was my partner since he was on call at the time.
I opened the door to find Brian, a sixteen-year-old patient of mine. I had seen Brian enough times over the past few years to know him by name. I asked him why he was wandering around at two o’clock in the morning. “I was just out taking a walk and thinking,” he replied. I invited him in to have some hot chocolate and “talk and think together.”
I put the water on to boil, and we began to chat. As the conversation progressed, we both began to share a little bit about ourselves, our worries and our frustrations. It was obvious Brian was full of fears and anxieties that he definitely needed to express.
Brian told me about his girlfriend, who had just broken up with him, and about his grades, which weren’t as good as he would have liked. He wanted to be an architect, but he worried that it would be impossible with his grades. He told me that his parents fought a lot and that he felt it was his fault. He said that he didn’t know whether there was a God and if there was. Whether God loved him.
I tried just to listen and offer encouragement where I could. I had some contacts among architects, so I told Brian I wanted him to meet them and learn more about the profession. Brian and I also talked about the positive thing we planned to do to address some of our worries and fears. Our conversation lasted two hours. Finally, I drove Brian home, where I saw him sneak in through a first-story window.
After that night, Brian frequently stopped by my office (at more reasonable hours) to give me an update on his progress in various areas of life. He was a very pleasant, outgoing young man who soon became good friends with my staff.
About six months after my first conversation with Brian, I moved my practice to a different location. A year after the move, I received a graduation announcement from Brian. Folded inside the formal invitation was a handwritten note.
Dear Dr. Brown,
I wanted to thank you for caring for me that night. I don’t think you ever knew, but I felt so bad that night, I planned to kill myself. Everything in my life seemed so bad, and I didn’t know what to do next. As I was walking down the street, I saw your office and noticed the light was on. Then, for some reason, I decided to talk to you. All that talking and your listening made me realize a lot of things about my life that was good. Some of the options and ideas you mentioned to me really helped. I am graduating from high school, and I’ve been accepted to the university’s architecture school. I couldn’t be happier. I know I’ll have hard times, but I also know I’ll get through the hard times. I’m very, very thankful that your light was on that night.
I don’t believe this note was the result of anything extraordinary I did with Brian; our conversations had been very ordinary. But reflecting on my acquaintance with Brian makes me think them was something quite exceptional at work.
One might say it was fortuitous that I was in the office and that the light was on, that night when Brian was contemplating suicide. I believe the world works in a different way.
There is a light, or energy, that shines in and through each of us, to provide guidance and support for ourselves and our fellow human beings. And it was that light that shone brightest on the night when Brian knocked at my office door.
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